However I may feel about his parents, I will always love Calanon.
Because of him, the others saw nothing of what happened with us. He it was who invited them to the Sporting Center to watch a game in which the players ride horses and hit a ball about a field with a long mallet, trying to get it into the opposing team’s goal. Only, this time, instead of horses, the players used donkeys. The results were often hilarious, according to all who watched, the donkeys sometimes sitting down in the middle of a play, or braying aloud at a crucial point, or donkey-kicking at an opponent’s steed. Sabariel would not allow Calanon to participate, not wishing him to “compromise the family dignity” by such a ridiculous pursuit. But she allowed him to stay and watch the game, taking herself off to her sister’s, and then one of the players came up to him and said he had hurt his ankle the day before, and would Calanon like to take his place? Calanon suspected his friend was just too embarrassed to play, and it wouldn’t have been very sporting to refuse, now would it? I strongly suspect that Tilwen, less than enchanted with Sabariel’s supercilious attitude, did a little aiding and abetting of her nephew--who is not a little boy after all, but is nearly grown, and less likely to come to grief on a donkey than on a horse, surely.
They went on and on, telling us all about the game in detail, interupting each other, saying, “No no, it was like THIS...” and I managed somehow to laugh and chuckle in the right places and even be convincing about it, while another part of my mind was going back over what happened.
After Galendur and Maldor had turned the Amaryllis around, Galendur called me to him. I left the twins comforting their sister, and went to the helm, where he drew me close and lowered his voice just above a whisper.
“I pulled the harpoon in, while you were pumping Guilin out,” he said, “thinking we might need it in case some of the shark’s relations took a notion to follow, and when I drew it in…well, it was naked as a newborn. Not a trace of shark upon it. Now I saw with my own eyes the harpoon go right through him, and come out the other side, and although I never saw anything like it before, I know I wasn’t imagining things. Not only that, not a sign of our shark…but…” He glanced back over his shoulder at the others. “I saw someone floating just below the surface of the water where he went down. It was a human form, smallish--about Northlight’s size. It was male, I suppose, although all I could really see of it was floating black hair and a pair of shoulders, upper back and upper arms. Its skin was a sort of sickly white with a greenish tint to it. For a moment I thought it was Moonrise, until I saw him climb back up on the deck. Then when I looked back at the corpse, the strangest thing happened. It started giving off this pale green light, like phosphorescence, the way you see on the waves at night sometimes. The hair started waving about like squid-tentacles, then all seemed to dissolve until all to see was that eerie light. Then even that faded away. What do you make of that? It damned nearly had me pissing myself, except I think I already did that when our shark first made his appearance. Good thing the wave soaked me all over.”
Very softly I told him what Fairwind told me. I had told Galendur of Darkfin before, but it had been over a year ago, and I had to refresh his memory a bit.
“Oh, sh--!” he said more than once, glancing back at Fairwind, whose back was to us now. Her brothers were gathered close to her, along with the twins. What was going on in her mind, I could only imagine. Maldor and Guilin stood together, talking about I don’t know what. “So…she killed her own brother then?”
“Yes,” I said. “We passed the Barrier. I sensed when we passed it, but when I was running up to tell you to turn back, that’s when the wave came up. I don’t know what we’ll tell Anemone. I think we must not tell her at all.”
“I should say not,” Galendur seemed dazed, glancing back at Fairwind again. “Poor girl. She saved all our skins then…but, but killing her own brother, that’s really….”
“Yes, I know. I don’t know what to do for her. I hope the others can help her.”
“So, this Darkfin…he was lying in wait all this time, on the chance that you just might happen to sail out too far one day and he could get his hooks on you? Or teeth or whatever?”
“He’s a servant of Morgoth, remember. And has been endowed with extraordinary powers, even for sea-folk. And I think he wished to kill his brothers and sisters as well. He wanted to get his revenge on his mother by destroying those most dear to her.”
Galendur gave a low whistle. “Why did he hate her so much?”
“Because she refused to acknowledge his superiority and bow down to his authority,” I said. “Northlight told me much about it. She was proud of him, but saw many traits in him that were greatly disturbing. His father said he was a ‘natural leader’ and was ‘destined for great things.’ But Darkfin was a bully and adamant about having his own way in absolutely everything, would never take no for an answer, and took whatever he wanted, and his father encouraged this behavior until finally Anemone took the others away, fearing what Darkfin would do to them. She had them stay with her parents, while she did what she could to counter her mate’s influence over her firstborn. She told me once that she even considered having his father killed, in order to save her son, and that she threatened to do so, and so it was constant war between them. When he was grown, Darkfin went off and organized his own faction, and with the help of his father overthrew the ruling faction of that portion of the kingdom. Northlight was with them at the time. He considered that faction to be weak and corrupt, and he and his brother should be the ones to replace it. Anemone and some of her siblings organized a small ‘army’—if one can call it such, consisting of many of her father’s subjects and members of the defeated faction—and attempted to route them, but by then they had grown too large and powerful, and so the coup failed, and some of the siblings were killed. Anemone and her other children were in danger for their lives, so she appealed to the Sea-Lord, who granted her a safe haven and the power to take the forms of dolphins, so Darkfin’s minions could not find them. This was shortly before I sailed. You know the rest, I suppose. I believe he considered her marriage to me a mortal threat to himself and his dominion.”
“And so he would have…eaten up his own brothers, along with Guilin, if Fairwind hadn’t skewered him?” Galendur asked. “And the rest of us for afters?”
“Yes,” I said, “he was that monstrous. He badly needed killing. I just wish it didn’t have to have been Fairwind to do it.”
Galendur stood for a long moment, bereft of speech. “So now he’s dead,” he said finally. “What do you suppose will happen now?”
I was about to answer that it remained to be seen, when a soft sound caught my ear. Looking up I saw far ahead of us a good many reefs sticking up from the water in the afternoon sunlight. The sound was issuing from them, a melodious voice of singing, strange and haunting and very sweet, caressing and sensuous and ethereal all at once. Galendur turned the rudder to maneuver past the reefs, calling to Maldor to trim the sails, and I spied something perched on one of the rocks. I took it for a seal at first, and I put a hand above my eyes to shield them from the sunlight, and that was when I saw that it was human, with long, long hair very like Anemone’s….
I froze…for the voice sounded much like hers also.
“Great Valar!” Galendur said, and I started. “Looks like Anemone, what? But it’s not…is it?”
“No,” I said between clenched teeth, every hair on my head and feet prickling, and I wondered if it were standing on end. “That is not Anemone. Do not look at her. Turn your head away and do not listen to her. Steer as far from the reefs as possible.”
I could see her face more clearly. She casually drew one hand through her hair and smiled in our direction, showing perfect bare breasts, and began singing once more. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Maldor and Guilin staring at her also. And I must confess it took all the willpower I had to turn my eyes away and look at Galendur, who did not appear to have heard a word I had said.
What a time not to have my star-glass with me….
“Galendur,” I said, “do not look at her! She is one of his. You will wreck the boat and we’ll all be killed. Think of Tilwen and your son. You MUST look away! Just steer the boat and close your ears to her….”
The singing grew louder, more rich and mysterious and sweet, and it made goose-bumps rise all over me, such a beautiful, beautiful sound, like golden mushrooms and roses and pearls and velvet and thrush-calls and waterfalls and auroras and starlight, all mixed together, powerful and seductive beyond words. A sound one might hear in the loveliest dream possible, full of sable-haired dancers and foamy clouds and snowy horses and flamingoes rising from twilit pools of rose-white lilies….
I wondered if I should hit Galendur in his groin-area and take over the rudder myself…except I was still not so presumptuous as to suppose that I could hold out against that voice much longer myself. My heart was pounding like an orc-drum in the deep…in the deep…no, must not give in, not this time, I would not, I would not, help me….
And she stood up, her shimmering gold hair blowing back in the breeze, her slender ivory arms lifting with incredible grace, and I saw all of her, pale and perfect and fresh and glowing in the light, and I told myself to avert my eyes, and I did so, and pushed Galendur away from the rudder—no need to hit him, after all, and took it myself, willing myself with all I had not to heed that voice, not to look at that form. But I could hear, and in another minute I would look, my head would turn and I could not stop it, oh Powers, help me, I cannot steer this boat….
And suddenly there was a roar of rushing wings, and my head jerked up and I saw six sea-gulls circling furiously about the figure, squawking, diving at her, pulling at her hair, one of them going for her eyes, another for her belly, another attacking her from behind. She raised one hand and a ball of fire shot at one of the gulls, and I opened my mouth to scream but no sound came. The gull barely dodged the fire and wheeled upward, shrieking, and Galendur snapped out of his trance and nudged me aside and took the rudder once more. She raised another hand to send out another fire-ball, but a gull flew straight at her armpit, and she produced not so much as a spark. She screamed and flapped madly at the birds, and they circled her, two of them going after the backs of her knees, one at her breasts, another at her left ear, and then, incredibly, one of them caught her by the hair with its beak and lifted her straight from the rock, depositing her unceremoniously into the water.
“Steer,” I commanded Galendur. “Maldor, the sails! They will catch up. Don’t look back!”
Galendur needed no urging now. Maldor unfurled the spinnaker and hoisted the jib and the wind whisked us smartly along. Guilin stood up and looked questioningly at the harpoon. I told him we were too far from the woman for it to be any use.
Another gull plummeted straight down after her, and there was turbulence below, then the bird resurfaced, and there was no more motion in the water. Then the gulls began flying back to the boat, all six of them, and a moment later, all six of my stepchildren stood there smiling, their hands reaching for each other’s, their hair blowing out like incredibly sweet flags in the wind.
And we crossed over the Barrier, while back in the Sporting Center, Calanon’s donkey-team beat the other 16 to 12.
If anyone wondered, we would tell them a whale had made the wave, I hoping hard that no one had seen or heard of it. We discussed in detail in order to make sure we all had the exact same story for the others. Not a word of the shark, let alone of the sea-witch.
“Well done, me hearties,” Galendur told them with what seemed to me a forced cheeriness as my sea-family stood before him and myself in a half-circle. “No captain ever had a more gallant crew. If I had medals, I would give them out to each and every one of you.”
The twins took hands and looked at each other with shy smiles, then back at him, then at Guilin, then at me.
“If I were a mortal,” Gloryfall said, “I would get a red face.”
“I think I made her a hole for an ear-ring,” Moonrise said.
“And thanks to me,” Ebbtide said with blood-thirsty delight, “she may have to take up wearing an eye-patch. I’ll wager it will spoil her looks for a while.”
“She won’t have much to sing about anymore, I’m sure,” Guilin said thoughtfully.
“Which one of you was it,” Galendur asked, “that picked her up by the hair of her head and dropped her into the wash? Now that was something to see. Was it Northlight? Or Fairwind?”
“I wish I could take credit for it,” Northlight said, “but that was Nightingale.”
“Ah yes,” Ebbtide said. “Our Nightingale. She may look all sweet and adorable, but don’t let that fool you. She’s not one to trifle with.” He pinched her ear and she slapped at his hand.
“Is she dead?” Maldor asked. “The sea-woman, I mean.”
“I think not,” Nightingale said, “but she won’t be back. I don’t think she knew Darkfin was dead. But she’ll find out soon enough.” She smiled gently at Fairwind, who stood still and silent.
“Was she his wife, or mate or whatever?” Guilin asked.
“I do not know,” Northlight said. “He had a good many followers among the females, many of whom crave power as much as the males.”
“Fairwind,” I said, “how do you feel now?”
“Somewhat better,” she said softly. “It is good to know I have saved my true brothers, and my sisters, and Guilin, and you, and all the rest. But Nana will have a fractured heart.”
“We shall all protect her,” I said. “Not a word to her, anyone…is that agreed?”
None needed persuading. All swore to protect Anemone from the truth until the end of the ages.
“Fairwind,” I said reaching out to take her hands in both mine, “I doubt you even begin to realize the enormity of what you have done, my child. You not only saved all of us, but thousands, maybe millions, of lives. He would have become more and more powerful, if no one had stopped him, and his dominion would have grown ever larger, and may even have spread to land. He may even have penetrated the Barrier, if the Islanders were so incensed with grief and rage at our loss that they abandoned all reason and hope and faith, and turned from the Light. He may have come to make Sauron look a petty tyrant in a garden-spot, by comparison. Because of you, the seas and the Island are safe now. At least, far more than they were.”
I felt my breath sucked out even as I realized what I was saying.
“You don’t suppose he has a son, do you?” Galendur asked rubbing his chin.
“Two sons, and two daughters,” Northlight said. “They are but children now. Perhaps they will not fall to evil now their father is dead.”
“What will happen now?” Maldor said. “I hate to sound like a sour old pessimist, but there could be more where he came from. He may have been felled, but Morgoth is still out there.”
“His forces are weakened,” Fairwind spoke up. “And I think…I should go, and try to subdue them. Perhaps if I went forth and raised up our armies again, we could do so this time, and bring about peace.”
“You’ll be leaving us then?” I said, my stomach caving in. How would we do without Fairwind and the rest now? And how would we keep the knowledge from Anemone?
“Ohhhh,” Gloryfall said, “I don’t wish to go. My eyes are getting wet at the very thought of it. Don’t go, our Fairwind. Let someone else do it.”
“Yes, you’ve done your part,” Nightingale said.
“But I am the oldest, now that he’s gone,” Fairwind said, and she was starting to get wet eyes also. “I think it’s my duty.”
“So you won’t be in the play now?” I said, my throat tightening.
“Yes, I will,” she said, “but after that…I really think I should go. I do not ask the rest of you to come with me. You may tell Nana I missed Redsand, and went back to him. I will come back to see all of you sometimes, if all goes well. Perhaps for good.”
“I’ll go with you,” Moonrise said. “You, Ebbtide?”
“I’ll go,” Ebbtide said. “Northlight?”
No, no, no, no, no, no…not Northlight….
“I stay,” Northlight said looking sideways at me. I shuddered in relief. “Nana would go wild with grief, if all of us should leave her now. Some of us must abide with her.”
She is not the only one who would go wild with grief, I thought.
“We stay also,” Nightingale said looking at her twin. Gloryfall nodded mutely, swiping at her eyes with the back of her free hand. My throat tightened.
“Our Ada Towerstar needs us too,” Gloryfall said. “And Raven. Our Birdsister. We cannot leave them.”
“Perhaps Embergold will stay also,” Nightingale said. “I wish she wouldn’t go back to that stupid mate of hers. He’s sooo dreary. And it would be ducky to have the little ones about, wouldn’t it?”
“I hope you can persuade her,” I said, swallowing hard.
“Do I look horrid now?” Gloryfall asked, sniffling a little.
“You look glorious...like your name,” I assured her, and truthfully, remembering Anemone telling me how she got her daughter's name after seeing a waterfall full of the afternoon sunlight on an island.
Gloryfall smiled tremulously. “I think I could learn to sleep in the air,” she said, “and maybe even bring myself to wed someone, as long as Nightingale lives right next door or something. Weddings are a lovely thing, and I’m enormously sorry I ever tried to talk Nana out of having one with you, Ada dearest.”
“You are forgiven,” I said smiling in bittersweet relief as we hove in sight of the dock, and I saw none of the others about.
“The sea seems happy tonight,” Anemone said as we sat together on the beach, late in the evening. “There is a feeling of rejoicing about it. Almost as if there were a wedding in the deep.”
The waves seemed very calm, and caught the light from the Beacon in gently dancing ripples and winking star-gems. Listening carefully, I could hear a soft music about it, like many voices conversing gaily, and laughing and singing while a happy rain fell about, birds twittered, and children played on the green.
I made a jolly good show with them, didn’t I? Galendur said to me after the others had left. Considering that I feel like the arse-end of nothing…or maybe more like what comes out of it. How did YOU hold out against her?
I wouldn’t have held out for long, I said. Little by little I was caving in. You did no worse than the rest of us. Maldor and Guilin…and myself.
But I was responsible for us. And I did bloody nothing. I would have wrecked us. I did try to resist, truly. But I bloody failed, and that’s all about it.
Now you’ve some idea why I came to the Island, I said. Do not allow him to make you despise yourself, dear friend. That is one of his keenest weapons. I should know.
I’ve never been any paragon, but I’ve never once been unfaithful to Til since we’ve been wed. Never even wanted to. But that…woman…in my mind, I was ravishing her from head to toe. I don’t know what to think. I don’t know how to face Tilwen now.
I laid an arm about his waist, thinking what a good friend he was, sweet and funny and caring and understanding, and I kissed his hand. What wonderful times we’d had together, and we had learned much from each other, and I had shared his joy in his first-born as he had shared mine in my wedding. And now I must watch him suffer as I watched Fairwind suffer? What could I say to set things right for them?
“Is something wrong, Beloved?” Anemone asked me. I started, wondering if perhaps today had been a bad dream…wishing with all my heart that it had been. Or was that just too selfish of me?
I don’t understand it, Galendur said when I suggested that it may have been the Sea-Lord who compelled us over the Barrier, for the purpose of destroying Darkfin. If that’s the case, why didn’t the Sea-Lord just destroy him himself? Seems he could have done that more easily than any of us, without any mess or bother.
I have wondered about that myself, I admitted. Really, why? Why had I been chosen to bring down Sauron? Why could not Eru have just snapped His fingers and made him vanish from the face of Arda? Why choose some puny mortal like myself? I didn’t make the mess, why should I clean it up?
Well, yes, I could come up with reasons. The same reasons good parents might require their children to solve their own problems. Learning to solve one’s own problems matured one, built character and instilled courage and strength and responsibility. Having their parents solve them only made them into spoilt, soft nothings. But yes, it was hard to see that when one was floundering in the process of solving the problems. And what about watching one’s friends and lovers and children go through it? Yes, much easier to talk about the necessity of it than to be faced with it….
I must confess: I was angry with the Sea-Lord.
Anemone kicked off one slipper and drew her toes across my foot, leaning her head against my shoulder. I kissed the top of it.
“You can keep your hair this length if you like,” I said softly a moment later, fingering a curl near her cheek. “Now that I’m used to it, I have decided I like it. And I’m sure it’s easier on you not to have so much.”
No one had heard about the wave, it seemed.
I remembered how Maldor watched his brother as we were parting. Galendur knelt and embraced me and then Northlight very warmly, touching his cheek…he now loves Northlight as much as he loves me, after the choking incident with Little Iorhael. Then he grasped Guilin’s hand and looked softly at the others, and as Maldor watched us, I had an idea that he felt he had missed out on something, for all he had raised three children. Still, he had chosen to make a start in the right direction, which was certainly more than Ortherion was doing.
“Thank you,” Anemone said. “I like it better this way too. It’s not so hard to wash.”
Not that I should be angry. The Sea-Lord had given me Anemone, after all. Who was now fumbling at my cravat.
“Do you mind terribly if we don’t do it tonight?” I heard myself pleading, laying my hand over hers. “Really I’m all in. I’m not sure why.” It was not far from the truth, at that.
I was a little afraid she’d be put-out. But she just sat up straighter and looked up at me.
“You do look tired,” she said. “I think you’ve been working a little hard lately. But you seem a little sad also. Is it because some of the children will be going away?”
“Yes,” I said, feeling glad that I didn’t have to lie about that. “Even Fairwind said something about missing her mate. She may be going too, for all she said she would stay.”
“Yes, she told me,” Anemone said with a sigh. “And I thought she was adapting so nicely here. But I knew she would miss Embergold. They were always so close.”
“I knew she would also, but I thought the twins might comfort her. They are natural comforters. Look how much they’ve done for Raven. They listen to her, cheer her when she’s sad, make her laugh, take an interest in all she does and encourage her in all she would do. Very sweet girls they are.”
“Yes. I’m so happy they are staying.”
“And Moonrise. Do you know he’s going to carve a stone dog like Lord Elrond’s for Northlight before he goes? Northlight really liked that dog, and misses it. He and Moonrise keep teasing Ebbtide about posing for the clay model. Ebbtide is never going to hear the end of that incident, I fear.”
“I shall greatly miss those two scamps,” I said. “And Embergold—I shall miss her grave and startling observations, and the way she looks so much like you when she makes them. I hope the twins will succeed in persuading her to stay. Along with the little ones.”
“I hope so too,” Anemone said.
“And perhaps Fairwind is the most amazing of all,” I said. “She is full of surprises, and character, and talent, and energy, and love and purity and wonder. A true princess. I think she is destined for great things. And Northlight…but what can I say of him that I haven’t said before? I don’t know what I ever would have done without him. He has brought us all such joy, in his own sweet, serious, eccentric way. Lord Elrond was right, he is a treasure for the keeping. Yes, you have quite a knack with raising children, my dearest. And that’s no easy matter. What you have accomplished is truly awe-inspiring.”
I was surprised at myself, the way it all just came pouring out of me, and that I meant every word. But I felt that if I commended her on where she had succeeded, she would feel better about where she had failed.
She smiled gently, and leaned her head against me once more.
She will know, one day. When and how, I do not know. Perhaps someone will let it slip, or she will sense it, or someone from the sea will bring her news of it. There is no way to prepare myself for it. It will be a pain I cannot take upon myself, but must watch her struggle through it, see her tears and hear her cries and try to convince her that it had to happen, and wonder why it had to be, and hold her all night and all day also, and sit and talk with her long into the evenings, as the children bring her flowers and little gifts of their own making and she will smile over them with red eyes, and after they have gone to bed she will lean against me and ask what she did wrong, and later she will rail at me for keeping it from her as long as I did, then weep because Fairwind had to be the one to bring it about, and I will pray and sing and write poems for her, and point out once more the enormity of what she has accomplished…and place her Evenstar in her hand and set the star-glass in the window at night, and make love to her and hold her hand until day-break…and I will talk to you, Sam, and ask you questions you may not be equipped to answer and make you worry about your own family and be angry with myself for bothering you about it, at the same time knowing it’s what you want me to do…and rejoice that the seas are safer and many, many lives will be spared because of the deeds of small people….
And know that although I cannot bear her pain for her, I can bear her, and shall do so for as long as we both shall endure upon this sacred, fractured earth….