I suppose I should have felt better about myself than I did. But I was out of sorts all through dinner, and couldn’t manage to eat much.
I found myself blaming Inzilbêth. And Alagos.
Every evening after dinner, Northlight takes the others, including Raven, down to the beach or into town so that Anemone and I might have some quiet time alone together. The girls wash the dishes for us and put them away before they leave. Usually we sit for a while together on the terrace or in the garden, or walk down to the beach and sit apart from the others, watching them play. Or we go boating, or for a walk down the other end of the beach…and yes, sometimes we do a little “celebrating”...but mostly, we simply revel in each other’s company.
The others often go to the Sporting Center, for they all love sport except Raven, so Northlight usually takes her to the dance-theater, or just ambling about, visiting some of the places where she used to perform, talking to acquaintances of hers they meet. More often, they all go to the Park. Passers-by smile hugely to see them all, children shouting and pointing, their elders gently reproving them. Only a few people regard them with suspicion or hostility, and most of those try to conceal it, aware that they are in a minority. Sometimes children get up a ring-game, and all join in. They all love children’s games still, and behave themselves nearly as child-like as the elflings, even the more serious of them, namely Northlight and Embergold. And Onyx, who is oddly solemn for such a little chap, unlike his sister who is gay-hearted like the twins, sometimes exasperatingly frisky. I feel I should reproach them when they start climbing up on the fountain and dive in dramatically and disappear, to the consternation of many onlookers, but since I’m not supposed to be watching, I hold my tongue. Anemone just beams, and I shrug and laugh, and let them frolic.
We went to the Park also this time, where a large pond takes up one end. There is a small dock where one may rent a row-boat, but the owner never will take my money. He just says “Go on with you now!” and gives us the smallest boat, which I suspect he has had made special for us. It has a small ruffled canopy on one end and a nice cushioned seat, and I like to have Anemone sit there so I can face her while I row.
She was wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat with silk flowers pinned onto it, to keep the sun out of her eyes, which are now sensitive. She looked so maddeningly sweet in it, I had all I could do to watch where I was going. I had to admit she looks all the lovelier in the hat with the shorter hair, and it holds a curl better now this way, she says. She wore a gown of pale pink to match the flowers in her hat. It's most gratifying to me that she likes to dress nicely without being obsessive over how she looks.
She kicked off her slipper and caressed my foot with her toes.
“You look so handsome in that suit, I don’t know how much longer I can restrain myself,” she said with dancing eyes as we pulled along, waving to other boaters we saw. “We are the prettiest couple in the Park. Everyone is fuming with envy.”
I had to laugh: “They do not look fuming to me. On the contrary, my Love, people greatly delight in seeing us together. They light up in a way they do not when it’s just myself. I would venture to say it brightens their entire day.”
“Well, they are fuming,” she insisted, teasing my ankle with her big toe. “You merely don’t see it because you are so ridiculously modest. We shouldn’t even be here, we are ruining their day. AND we have the prettiest children, and they all know it.”
“I can scarcely argue there,” I grinned. “And they are also the smartest, and bravest, and sweetest, and funniest, and most gifted of any besides. I think so, anyway.”
“I’m so thankful you were able to love them,” she said more seriously, putting her foot back into its slipper, “instead of merely tolerating them for my sake. You’ve no idea how happy that makes me.”
We fell silent for a few minutes, taking each other in, the sheer wonderfulness of just being there, together, two souls eternally knitted in love and poetry and destiny and soft magic. A pair of swans floated by, their downy offspring trailing after them. Anemone took some pieces of bread she had brought along in a bag to feed them, and tossed them out.
“Why, look,” she said nodding toward the shore, “there’s Findëmaxa.”
I looked and saw the artist walking along with two other ladies and a fellow. She recently took up with a community of artists and has moved out of her flat to live among them. They live in a building near the Museum, and are regarded as eccentric and even a trifle daft by the population in general, and I can hardly picture Findëmaxa among them. It’s said they have no furniture other than a chair and small table, they don’t wear underwear, and many sleep in hammocks strung between the trees outside. They do the sort of art she once denounced as “a slap in the face of True Beauty.” Now she was wearing an ankle-length tunic of a black silky stuff painted over with rose and gold flowers, a white under-dress with full sleeves underneath, and several strings of beads and gold chains around her neck. Her fair hair was loose and flowing, held back from her delicate face with a beaded scarf. Her feet were in little black slippers, and one of her ankles had a small gold chain on it. Her companions were similarly clad. We waved to them and they all waved back, rather solemnly, but Findëmaxa gave us all a shyly beaming smile.
“Now there is a sight I NEVER thought to see,” Anemone said. I laughed.
“It’s a far cry from that pale, spinsterish get-up she used to sport,” I admitted.
“Do you think she’s really much happier now?” Anemone asked.
“Well, she looks as though she’s enjoying herself at the moment,” I said thoughtfully. “As for ‘happy’…well. I’m sure it’s a push in that direction. She’s feeling her way. And something tells me she will get there eventually, whether in our lifetime or no, I couldn’t say. But she will get there.”
“Do you suppose she’s wearing underwear?” asked my irrepressible wife.
I laughed so hard I made the boat wiggle. “I’m sure I don’t know. I never entirely believed that report, anyway.”
She laughed also: “I wonder if she still means to embrace chastity all her life. Somehow, I think not. I think we corrupted her. We should do so more often. It’s such fun, isn’t it?”
“By the way,” I said after we calmed down a little, “Aredhel is going to have a child. Rûdharanion told me so this morning.”
“Truly? There seems to be a good deal of that going around lately.”
“Isn’t there? In Middle-earth, it seemed scarcely any Elves were having children. Perhaps there will be a good many of them come about now that there is peace abounding.”
“How does Rûdharanion feel about being a great-great-grandfather?”
“Most thrilled…and a trifle kerflummoxed.” We both laughed. “To think he was once betrothed to her, and now...But I think it will do Aredhel a great deal of good to be a mother. Having a baby will propel her into adulthood very quickly.”
“Look,” Anemone said sitting up straight. “There’s Guilin--with Nessima. Doesn’t she look splendid? There’s another you’ve hopelessly corrupted. Although I’ve a feeling she’s got on underwear.”
We rowed back to the dock. Nessima did look very striking in a conservative but stylish and well-made gown of grey-green with a tiny figuring of black silk embroidery at the neckline, her hair neat and flowing. She had one hand draped over Guilin’s arm.
“So you had a little excitement at the theater today?” Guilin said cheerily. “Northlight and Fairwind told me all about it, just a while ago. Why do I always miss all the good stuff?”
“Because you’re too busy pursuing the wives of your benefactors,” Anemone said with a wink, giving him a poke in the chest with her forefinger. I could hardly believe the audacity, even from her. After a startled moment, however, I began to roar with uncontrollable laughter. So did Guilin. Nessima looked a trifle puzzled at the way we had taken the incident so much in our stride as we had.
“You look darling in that hat,” she told Anemone as we walked to the other end of the Park. “Your sense of style is amazing.”
Now there was something I never would have expected to hear from Nessima! I also never would have expected to see my Anemone get pink cheeks at something “the tall one” said either. Whatever Guilin’s gift is, I certainly hope it is a good one....
It was growing dusky, and Nessima said she needed to get home. Guilin offered to walk her back, but she thanked him and said the officials would frown on seeing her with a male companion so near the Home.
“So do you feel better now, Beloved?” Anemone asked as Nessima’s figure receded in the twilight, laying her arm over mine. The three of us sat on one of the benches near the fountain, Anemone in the middle.
“Much better,” I said. “I think a bit of that...thing...tried to follow me home. But fortunately, we lost him.”
“He knows better than to trifle with our family,” Anemone said. “So will Inzilbêth really give up acting?”
“She didn’t say she would,” I said. “I believe she has this idea she can make a new start in Aman. I hope she can, if she goes about it in the right way. But she will be a smaller fish in a much bigger pond.”
“Know what I think?” Guilin said. “I think she’s tired of the Island, and wants to break away into bigger and better things. And so she got up this whole hoopla in order to get away without a breach of contract. I bet she doesn’t even have a daughter. I think she made up that whole story to gain your sympathy, and to get you to use your influence, put in a good word for her and all that rot.”
“She asked me for no favors,” I said.
“She knows you better than that,” he said. “You may not be the worldliest of chaps, but you’re not anybody’s fool either, and she knows that. She figured she’d better come up with a bloody good story, so you’d do it without being asked.”
I shook my head. “The thing with the Witch-king rang too true. I don’t think even she is a good enough actress to pull that off.”
“She is, and she studied her part well,” Guilin insisted. “That’s her job, after all. She knows how to make it damned good, I’ll give her that much.”
“You once told me,” I reminded him, smiling, “that I've a face one cannot lie to.”
“Did I? Well then, I’ll amend that: You’ve a face one cannot lie to, unless one happens to be Inzilbêth. Lying is a way of life with her. Did she ever mention having a daughter to you before?”
“No,” I said, “but then, the subject never came up. We’ve never exactly been bosom friends.”
“Even so, those with children usually bring up the subject of them from time to time, whether among friends or not. Just don’t let her fiddle you into any funny business.”
“Oh, I shan’t. But I think you’re wrong about her,” I said. “You’re angry about the things she’s said and I don’t blame you. But I think perhaps I’ve corrupted her too, just a little. She’d be so much happier if she had a family like mine.”
“Corrupted whom?” Northlight said, appearing in the dim light near the fountain, Raven coming up close behind, holding lightly to his hand. The twins trotted up after, also hand in hand, then Moonrise carrying Onyx, the little one’s head drooping sleepily on his uncle’s shoulder. Sandrose scrambled down from Ebbtide’s back and ran to us, embracing first Anemone, then me, then Guilin, climbing onto his lap and babbling about all the things they’d done in the park. He is most fascinated by her tininess--a little lass perhaps the age of Lyrien, or the equivalent thereof, yet no taller than Little Iorhael. Raven sat down beside us and gathered Onyx onto her lap, hugging the tiny boy close. Fairwind and Embergold appeared arm in arm, enjoying the time they had left together.
Sam...I only hope your family is as corrupted as mine....