Sam didn't think anything could have surprised him after that...but right before his eyes, eight maidens were coming down the stairway that wound down to the terrace, looking much like the same girl at different ages, from the smallest to the tallest, each with that floaty hair as white as his own, that would have looked strange and unnatural on a hobbit-lass perhaps, but somehow didn't look a bit odd on these....Each wore a gown of a different color, each carrying flowers that matched the gowns.
Sam had an idea who they were already, Frodo having told him that one of the grandchildren had produced a family of eight lasses, all with gem-names.
"I am Amethyst," piped up the smallest, who wore a purple dress and was a bit shorter than himself, and she dropped a little curtsey and presented him with a little cluster of violets. "Please welcome."
"Thank you, my lass," he said most graciously, bowing his head to her with a smile.
"I'm glad you have white hair too," she whispered to him just before giving way to the next sister, who was in amber-colored velvet.
"Topaz, at your service, my Lord," she said, with a somewhat more dramatic curtsey, handing him a small golden lily. He grinned widely. And she whispered to him, glancing around, "The floaty candles were my idea!"
The next was all in white. "I'm Pearl," she said, handing him a pure white camellia. "I apologize for the loss that brought you here to us. But I hope you enjoy your stay."
"I am Garnet," said the next, who was in crimson velvet, and she gave him a cluster of crimson rosebuds. "I was going to say something else, but I don't remember now," she giggled.
"My name is Emerald," said the next, all in green, laying a branch of yellow frangipani in his hand. "This is the closest to a green flower I could find. I hope it is all right."
"I'm Sapphire," said a young lady all in blue, and her offering was a bunch of blue pansies. "And I think you are just too sweet!" she giggled as she pecked at his cheek.
"Ruby is my name," said the next one who was clad in scarlet, presenting a full-blown red rose, lowering her eyelashes demurely. "Great-granddad says you have a Ruby also. I am most honored."
The biggest, who was quite a young lady, wore a gown of cream-colored silk with glints of gold and rose in it, and she gave him a rose of creamy white with a tinge of pink in the middle. "I'm Opal, the eldest," she said with friendly dignity. "And I wish to bid you hearty welcome, and hope your crossing was not too difficult, and hope that your stay will bring you the greatest joy."
But that was not all--another pale-haired lady came just after, in pale pink with a silvery cast to it, and she held a bouquet of roses of almost the same shade as her gown.
"I am Sandrose, the mother of those eight lasses," she said smiling, "and I hope they do not annoy you too much. We wish to thank you for all you have been to our Granddad, and for making it possible for him to be with us now. He has brought so much joy to us all, and he says he owes it all to you. I know you have made him as happy today as he has made us...And this is Jasper, my mate and the father of my lasses." She presented a fellow with hair the same white as the rest.
"What a wonderful family you have, my lady," Sam said as Jasper solemnly inclined his head. "And not to worry, I don't reckon they could annoy me even if they wanted to. And their names are most fittin', I must say." This produced giggles from some of the girls, who stood now four in front and four in back.
"Thank you," Sandrose said with a sweet dimply smile. "And now they would like to sing a song for you. It was written by Opal and Ruby, if I'm not mistaken."
"I made one line," Amethyst spoke up modestly. The other sisters giggled again, and then settled themselves, and Jasper gave them the pitch, and they all began to sing:
Welcome Samwise to our Isle
We are most pleased to meet you
Long have we awaited this fine day
And with this song to greet you.
If there is something you should need
Only ask, and it shall be given
Naught is too good for our hero
Who evil from our land has driven!
We're thrilled that you are here at last
Joined with your heart's treasure
To see you both united thus
Doth give us purest pleasure.
May flowers spring up from your path
Where'er your steps do fall
May you have joy for all your days
With sunlight over all.
Welcome Samwise to our home
We hope you'll love your stay
Our true friend forever more
Now and for alway!
"Those are too beautiful to eat," Sam remarked when at last Mistress Tilwen approached one of the melon-roses with a knife. Moonrise and Amonost had done the carving, of course. Amaryllis had been a little miffed that she hadn't known of it, even though she had helped decorate the table and the stair-rail wth real flowers, and that she hadn't been included in the song. Her mum told her they might dance for Sam later on, and she was somewhat placated. Sam perked up his ears. It would be nice to see Raven dance. She was beautiful even for an elf, and Mister Frodo said she often danced at the theater, having been taught by one of the most famous dancers in the West, Ailenalqua, and many said Raven was just as good, if not better. Mister Frodo was most proud of her, that was plain.
"True, but they won't last even if we don't eat them," Tilwen said smiling. Sam was certain that she was his favorite of all Mister Frodo's friends here, with the possible exception of Lyrien. She was a wonderful lady. She did have a tongue in her head and no mistaking, but coming from her, that was a good thing. "So we may as well have that enjoyment. Have you ever tasted this kind of melon, Sam?"
"No ma'am, and I've been longing to try it for the longest. They don't grow where I live...or used to live."
She cut a large rose out of one of the melons and carefully set it on a plate. "They're very juicy, so have a care," she said. "But if it should dribble on you, don't mind it. I promise you we will neither faint, shriek, nor talk behind your back."
He laughed and then, a bit self-consciously since he could see the others were awaiting his reaction, took a bite. No doubt about it, this was juicy...and most cold and sweet, and not at all hard on the teeth (seeing as how he no longer had all he once had). A smile broke over his features which he could feel himself.
"This was well worth crossing the Seas for," he pronounced, and the folk outshone the candles with their smiles.
"I can scarcely argue with that," Frodo said.
Raven didn't dance on eggs, for she had not done that since she was a little girl. This time, she danced with candles.
Some of the others placed short stumpy candles here and there in the sand, for they had gathered at the beach. It was nearly nightfall--dusk lingered long out here and no mistaking. The fellows had built a fire, for the nights could get cold here, even in the summer. And there in the northern sky, were those colored lights Mister Frodo had spoken of so often. Green and blue and scarlet and gold and violet and silver, some streaky, some soft cloudy puffs, some of them upward beams, some downward ones, some just wide sheets of color, all shifting and swirling about very slowly. You could go into a deep trance just watching them, and find yourself amongst them, lost in endless colors, sky-gardens they were, without a doubt.
But even as fine as they were, he forgot them quickly when Raven appeared. She had changed from the dark red gown she had been wearing into a shorter one of an amazing pale blue-green color, with scarves of red and gold and purple dangling from her waist and her bare arms, and she had a band of gem-stones about her head, her hair hanging dark and loose all about her instead of braided like it had been. And bracelets on her wrists. And a soft light came from within her, pale rosy gold it was, her eyes dark star-gems in the gold skin of her face. She was the aurora itself, in human form.
Music began to play from an unseen source, from flute and drum and a harp of some sort, simple and rhythmic, and she began to dance among the candles, her skirt whirling out wide all around to reveal more skirts beneath, thin and filmy ones, her bracelets going ching-ching on her arms, which moved with unbelievable grace all around, her hair fanning out in a violet swirl as she spun and leaped among the flickering lights. The sky-colors seemed to be moving with her, following her movements, and music seemed to be coming out of the sky, not the music she was dancing to, but it didn't interfere with it at all, and the sea seemed to be holding still, watching. The music grew faster, sounding strange and foreign, yet wonderful, and Raven danced as one doing what she was born to do, and Sam wouldn't have been surprised to see her bound off into the sky. He had never seen such dancing...it was a little frightening, at the first. Or would have been, had Mister Frodo not been so good at describing things so he could see them in his mind. But even so, seeing it firsthand was a whole different matter. He felt that he was at a link between this world and the next, standing on the bridge itself, and that he was privileged in a way few mortals ever are, and it seemed unfair to the others somehow, and yet, he knew, this was what he had earned. At one point he found his lips moving, and he knew that he was saying "thank you" under his breath, over and over, giving thanks not only for the privilege he had been granted, but also for what Mister Frodo had been given, and for the light in his face as he sat watching, with one arm around Sam and the other around Anemone.
That was definitely well worth crossing the Seas for.