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68
The Spectre


Dear Sam,

Three more days until the play! I think I would be a wreck by now, were I not surrounded by so much love on every side. It makes me fairly grateful for all I’ve been through, for I may never have known the fullness of it otherwise. I worry for those who are to come on the Island; how will they ever know such love and joy, without having experienced the degree of suffering we have known? If they could only have what I have now, without having to earn it as I did…yet I truly pity them. And fear for them. And am reminded anew of why this play is so important.

Anemone has had her hair cut to her shoulder-blades, and she seems to like it so. I will admit the curly style makes her look very hobbitish, and the length becomes her. Still, I can but hope it grows back very quickly, and that she will allow it!

Here is what I found this morning in the velvet-covered book, lying open on Anemone’s pillow. I don’t think it will give you a red face.

Who has ever been
loved as I am?

Surrounded by stars
blessed beyond blessedness
how can I possibly
thank you enough?
How was my true strength born
the day my powers died?
How did I grow large
by becoming small?
How did my wet skin
turn to paradise?
You are as a spring
filling me endlessly--
my small frame can never
hold so much!
All I can hope to do
is become a waterfall
imparting to others
what you have given me
then rise as mist
and rain over trees
and flowers and fruit
and grain and grass
and mushrooms and moss
until all are spangled
with my rejoicing
then sink into the soil
at last to return to you
so that you may fill me
yet again
Beloved.

Today I got to watch the rehearsal of Fairwind’s big scene, her confrontation with the Witch-King. I don’t know how I mustered the courage to go and watch, since they were in costume this time.

The actor playing the Witch-King is called Alagos--I don’t know if it is his real name or no. I regret to say I’ve been rather evasive of him, simply because of the character he portrays. He’s not the sort of fellow who readily draws me in, being of a withdrawn and stand-offish demeanor…or so I tell myself; it’s entirely possible that he is merely shy. I’ve asked no one about him. It’s easier just to believe he hasn’t a nature congenial to mine. I’d seen him in costume before, of course, in the first play. But that was two years ago. And how did they know what sort of helmet he should be wearing? Gandalf must have described it for them....

Fairwind was in her costume also. I scarcely recognized her, seeing her taller than her full height. Sea-folk are smaller than Elves and Men, but taller than Dwarves. Fairwind is naturally about four feet and ten inches tall, and when she is with us at home, she appears about my height, which is three feet and eleven inches. Small wonder Nessima seems so towering to her. Now, on stage, Fairwind must have been well over five and a half feet tall. She can only stay tall for a short period of time, she said, whereas she can stay small for as long as she likes.

“Being small is nicer,” she said recently. “It feels closer to things. When I am high, it is as though I’m trying to get away from what is real and beautiful. As if I’m trying to be better than I’m meant to be. I don’t like losing the connection to what is deep and true and alive.”

“Perhaps that is why I don’t like heights,” I said smiling.

“And why Northlight chose not to be tall,” she said.

“Perhaps, although I thought at first it was because of Raven,” I said. “She told me once that she thought she stopped growing the day her parents were killed, and has only just begun to grow again. But maybe it’s also as you said. It says much for Northlight, that he wishes to maintain that connection with his origins, and not try to surpass the rest of us.”

I wished with all my heart she didn’t have to be saddled with the role of slaying the wraith. I knew she had encountered enemies before, and courageously faced them down, but they were of her own kind. Surely it would take it out of her. Yes, of course it was only playing a role on a stage, but I had a feeling that for her it was more than that. Just as, for me, this was more than a play. Yet I didn’t wish Inzilbêth to play the role either, for she knew naught of the reality of it all. She was too high, too cool, too removed from what the play and the scene really meant. And maybe, just maybe, could it be…deep down, she knew this.

Maybe this was the real reason she had walked out.

This realization hit me as I watched Fairwind confront the figure of unthinkability in the mock-battle.

Such illuminations of mine had always proved correct.

I do not doubt she was truly smitten with Dûndeloth. But her behavior, going about spreading scurrilous rumors about our family, was reprehensible, certainly. Why would she do such, I asked myself, if she had walked out because she had known she could not confront the true darkness at the center of the drama? Perhaps she would just rather be thought spoiled and selfish than cowardly or incompetent? Or perhaps she had come up into some dark corner of herself and had run amok of it. But was the confrontation with the shadow so world-shattering to her that she would throw away her entire career and reputation because of it? I had come up against it myself, and had survived. If I could withstand it, why couldn’t she?

“Are you all right, Ada?” Northlight whispered to me as I watched, transfixed. He was sitting next to me, Guilin on his other side, Dínlad and Perion on my other side, for we would rehearse some of their scenes later on.

I had been about to ask the same of Dínlad, who was staring with very round eyes.

Northlight laid a hand on my shoulder, the one that had been wounded, caressing it gently. I laid my hand, which surely was icy, over his. Perion whispered, “What’s a dwimmerlaik?” and Dínlad went “Shh!”

And we all watched in silence.

Much later, as Barathon/Eomer took his leave of us, I saw him look at Fairwind with a softness and gentleness which was somewhat more than brotherly, it seemed to me. I met Dûndeloth backstage, talking with Rûdharanion, as I was waiting for Northlight and the boys to change out of their costumes. He asked me if I were all right. I would survive, I said with a grin.

“You know,” he said as we moved some props off the stage, “I almost acquired a new dog the other day. A couple of them followed me around for three days, and I managed to get them all the way to Olórin’s night before last, and coax them to us. But yesterday I saw no sign of them anywhere. You didn’t happen to see a couple of dogs, one black and one tawny, yesterday, did you?”

“No,” I said.

“Ríannor was most taken with the tawny one,” he said. “But they took off after something in the garden, and I have not seen them since. It’s very strange.”

“Hmmm,” I said, looking to Northlight, whose back was to me.

“What is even stranger,” Dûndeloth said, “is that when she stroked him, we could have both sworn we heard him purr. But perhaps it was only a throaty growl. I was greatly disappointed to lose them.”

For some reason, I glanced around for Moonrise and Ebbtide, and caught sight of them through a doorway. The black head and the tawny one. Slowly I put my hands on my hips, turning back to Dûndeloth. Northlight stifled a giggle.

“I think I know who your dogs are,” I said with a grin.

~*~*~

Just as I was leaving the theater with Fairwind and her brothers in the late afternoon, I saw a tall cloaked figure standing in the shadows near the entrance, evidently intent on staying out of the light. Although her hair was covered and her face concealed, I had no trouble recognizing her.

“Iorhael!” she whispered to me, although there was not actual need to whisper. There was no one else about. I suppose she had made certain of that. “May I have a word with you alone?”

I heard my stepchildren all gasp with one accord.

“What is it you want?” I said as coldly as possible. Although Fairwind was behind me, I could feel her staring at the former actress. “Whatever you have to say to me, can be said before my family.”

I turned, rather dramatically it’s true, to look to them. Moonrise and Ebbtide looked to each other. Northlight moved closer to his sister, as though to protect her, although it was scarcely necessary.

“If you have come to ask for your part back,” he said, “don’t you think it’s rather late for that?”

“Of course I have not,” Inzilbêth said with limping dignity. “I only wished to explain something. I know you all have been hearing some…things…about me. That I’ve been going about spreading vicious rumors and slanders and so forth. I only came to tell you that there is no truth to that report. I have done some things for which I am at fault, but that is not one of them.”

I sat down on a bench just outside the door, folding my arms. The others, led by Northlight, withdrew leaving me and Inzilbêth alone together. She remained standing.

“It is true I walked out of the play,” she said clutching at the edges of her cloak and holding them together as though she wore nothing underneath. “I am not trying to excuse myself for that, although I did not do so for the reason you think. The thing with Guilin and your wife—I said that to his face, but I never went about saying it behind his back. He and I had been quarreling, and he said some things that upset me, and yes, it’s true I am not always what I should be, and so I said what I should not. And others were there and heard it, and so of course it got out of hand. But I repeat, and I do not expect you to believe me, nor am I trying to exonerate myself: I did not go about saying those other things you heard. That was the doing of one who has ample reason to hate me, and so I shall not give her name. I doubt that you know her. Long ago, I stole her sister’s lover from her, and that was after taking from her a role she very much coveted for herself. He became my husband. Well, if she would have but seen it, she and her sister had their revenge after that, for he was very bad to me and we were not happy together. I came here, and whither he went, I know not. I know not what became of the jilted lady, either. It’s possible he went back to her, although I think it unlikely. She was a timorous and silly young thing, and he could not have been so enamored of her as that. Her sister claims I broke her spirit as well as her heart, but she had not much spirit to break, or he would not have left her. I have alienated others as well, and am paying for it now. But she has taken this opportunity to ruin me, not that it is necessary. I sealed my own fate when I walked out. And as I said, it was not for the reason you think. I let them suppose as they did, because I did not want to face up to the truth.”

“Which is?” I didn’t know whether to believe anything else she was telling me, but a chill ran up and down my body. I almost did not want to hear it. “Is it that you were confronted with the spectre of pure evil, and could not face it?”

She gasped: “How could you know this?”

“Who would know better than I?” I touched my left shoulder. “I felt his blade. I bore his mark for two years. I am here now because of it. Although in a way, I should thank him for it. I’ve known happiness here that I never would have supposed possible, very much in part thanks to him. But I also knew misery and despair and terror that most know only in nightmares. It’s not just anyone who could survive that, and yet I did so.”

She backed off a step or two, her hood falling away from her wavy hair, which looked somehow drab and unresplendent in the shade. Almost involuntarily she reached up and pulled it back over her head, her face white and drained and…haunted, the skin stretched strangely tight over the magnificent cheekbones.

“Yes, I knew this, and yet…” she stammered. “How did you survive it? I began having nightmares, weeks before I walked out. I would see him before me, and I was immobilized, helpless in front of him, I could not move or cry out. He would taunt me with my worthlessness, and tell me I would be his, and he would own me, and ultimately he would devour me, down to my very bones. I woke screaming and trembling, and could not move from my bed for hours. And it did me no good to walk out, because I still see him. He haunts me still, sometimes choking me with black smoke, laughing at me, saying he will claim me…how can I ever be free of him? It is like, like a violation…I knew such in the flesh with my husband, who saw fit to take me against my will when he pleased, and although this is not of the flesh it is even worse somehow….”

She was trembling all over, tears streaming down her cheeks, and I knew that even she was not a good enough actress to feign all that. I shivered also. I could see my stepchildren standing at a distance, watching, and I knew any moment they would come over here and face her down, if I betrayed too much of what I was feeling.

“I know all too well of what you speak,” I told her. “You must resist him. He is our Enemy in the guise of this wraith, and you must recognize him as such, for that is the only way you can be rid of him.”

“Is this my punishment?” she asked barely above a whisper. “Have the Powers sent him to me, because I’ve had a less than virtuous past?”

“No,” I said. “That is not how they operate. Although I once thought the same thing, that they had sent evil spectres to punish me for claiming the Ring at the end. But they do not use such cruelty, and would prefer to protect you if you would put yourself into their care. He is taking advantage of your past to try and use you to gain access to the Island…and perhaps, to me. He still wants me, and is trying to use you to get to me, as he once tried to use Ríannor. This is why the play is of such vital importance. They did tell you this?”

“Something of it,” she murmured.

“I think it was ultimately for the good that you walked out, after all,” I said. “Fairwind is an experienced warrioress, although you would not think it to look at her, and has been instrumental in protecting the Island from evil. I believe she can face down the Spectre without it haunting her or gaining access through her. I have wished that she did not have to do it, and have cursed you for making it necessary, but perhaps it was right after all. Sometimes it is the purest who are sent to do the dirtiest work, for it is the ones who are besmirched who are most vulnerable.”

“Why do they suffer him to exist?” she asked. “Why do they not simply destroy him?”

“I have wondered that myself, and I cannot tell you,” I said, absently moving a loose pebble with my toe. “I suppose it is because in order for there to be good, there must be evil also. Light cannot exist without darkness. Things cannot move forward without opposition. They only sit still and stagnate, and out of the standing waters comes only foulness. One cannot become fully human without walking through the darkness…although, admittedly that was easier to say before I became a father.”

“Then I am the most human person I know,” she said with the tiniest hint of a smile, and she sat on the bench across from mine, letting her cloak fall open. “And it is not easy for me to say, for I am a mother also. And it would not upset me in the least, if the Powers were to strike down that being once and for all, and give me some respite from him. So how, if you do not mind telling me, have you managed to free yourself of him?”

“By refusing to allow him to empty me of myself,” I said. “By allowing those wiser than myself to instruct and guide me, yet doing for myself when I was able. By helping others. Through love and friendship, wholesome work and devotion to a higher power. Through hope and faith and determination. Through connection with all that is beautiful, healthy, holy, and real. Through laughter and poetry and exercise. Through the breaking of separation from the Divine. Through the recognition and acceptance of my own imperfection, the embracing of it, laying aside fear and condemnation. And…through visibility. Hiding only increases his determination, and makes you all the more vulnerable. Only by being what you truly are can you hope to hold him off.”

“What I truly am,” she said with a mirthless laugh. “I thought I had been entirely too much of that, which was what brought on all the trouble in the first place.”

“You are, or were, an actress,” I said with a little smile. “Perhaps the playing of roles has become so habitual to you, that you have lost the ability to distinguish between them and your true self. Or you lost sight of why you are an actress in the first place. But I have seen a light in you, if you would but let it shine without the colored shade of an assumed role. I am not saying you should give up acting—only that you should not let your true light disappear beneath the largeness of self. That gives him a great advantage.”

“I see,” she said.

“So you do not care so much for Dûndeloth then?” I said gently.

“He is all I could love,” she said, a slight flush staining her cheeks, giving her a tragic beauty. “But I know it will never be. Well…I think I shall take a long hiatus from acting, and go to Aman and stay with my daughter for a while, if I can manage to make peace with her. I think he cannot reach me there.”

“Do not be so sure,” I said. “I think you should free yourself from him completely before you attempt to reconcile yourself with her, lest he unleash his spite on her as well as you.”

“I would incinerate him and myself both in a ball of fire before I would allow that,” she said and I smiled hugely then. Glancing aside, I saw a bush of white roses next to my bench. I picked one and gave it to her.

“Leave off your hood,” I advised her, “and carry your head high. Visibility is all.”

And I went to rejoin my stepchildren.

“So we don’t get to do the thing with the octopus?” Moonrise said after a long moment as we walked toward the cart.

“Not this time,” I grinned. The others chuckled.

“I think there’s much to be said for being a dog, myself,” Ebbtide said as we squeezed in, Northlight taking the reins as usual. “When one has the right mistress, with petal-soft hands and eyes like dark water full of winking lights. There is much to be said.”

“Yes, I can see that,” I nodded.



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