Guilin had come into Northlight’s room as soon as he was conscious and had been sufficiently dosed to relieve his pain, sat on the edge of his bed and took his brother-in-law’s hand and kissed it, a tear falling on it, and told him he would do all he could to help capture his attackers, and Raven said she would help.
“Such joy she had as a bride,” Northlight said as he helped Sam dress, “and then…it was all destroyed. I will never forget that. First she saw her parents slaughtered, and then she had been captured along with her brother by orcs and taken prisoner…and now, in the land where she was supposed to have found happiness, she had to deal with this. I still do not understand some things, why they must be. I felt not entirely blameless in the matter, for I had followed Darkfin, and had never truly been punished. And I had not taken sufficient heed of Ionwë’s threats. It was stupid of me not to suppose he would come up with a way to get at me, even after so many years. After all I had seen with Darkfin and his minions, I should have known more of the ways of evil. Had not Arasinya warned me? She said her brother had confronted her a time or two while drunk and called her vile names, threatening to tell her husband that she and I were ‘carrying on like beasts’ behind his back. She said he had often abused her when she was a child, and her parents had done very little to stop him as long as he did not physically harm her, but he belittled her and subjected her to much verbal nastiness, and her mother had merely told her all boys did such and he would outgrow it. So, I should have expected him to take action and felt a great deal of guilt that I had not taken his threats seriously, and now my family was suffering as a result.”
“Nonsense—beggin’ your pardon, M—Northlight,” Sam said as he tucked his cravat into place. “Of course it weren’t no fault of yours. You should never of took it on yourself what that villain did. So how long did it take to capture him and the others?”
“Not so very long. Their horses ran off when Lainadan started banging on the tub, and had run into the city, and been identified. Their owners had been most choice and proud of them, and flaunted them so shamelessly that they became easy to recognize. And thus they betrayed their own masters. The entire Island was outraged by what happened, and determined to track down the perpetrators. Raven wished to go with them, but I feared she would get hurt, and also what she might see. I had to look a bit pitiful in order to dissuade her, but it worked. And my parents went, although I wished them not to also. It was Shadowfax who found him. He was an old horse, but he still had powers of his own, especially when our Gandalf rode him. He led the others, and Ionwë was caught hiding in a storehouse, and he denied having taken part, at first, then he confessed, probably fearing what they might do to him if he did not, and betrayed his friends to his captors: Beleg, Raegbund, and Istuion were their names. Ionwë whimpered a great deal, not being as brave when alone as he was with his comrades, claiming that he was drunk and did not know what he was doing, his fellows had put him up to it, and he had never meant to kill me, only to play a prank, and so forth. Yes, I can believe he was terrified. I think they would have torn him limb from limb, had Gandalf not come along. He insisted upon Ionwë and the others being taken to the prison. Everyone was in an uproar. Nothing like this had ever happened on the Island before. There had been drunken fights, sometimes with rather nasty results, but this was a very different matter. I greatly feared for the peace of the Island, and I was not the only one. There was a great deal more at stake than just my life.
“The Queen told Ionwë that he and his friends would either be put to death or imprisoned for a hundred years, according to the law of the land. She asked me, when I was out of danger, what I wished done. I told her I would have to discuss it with my family. Raven and Guilin, and my brothers and sisters and their spouses, all described in vivid detail what they would have done with them…and yes, I was shocked though not surprised at the blood-thirstiness of their proposals. But I knew I would have a hard time, even after what I had endured, condemning a person to death, although I could have done so had it been one of my loved ones who was attacked rather than myself. I thought perhaps they might be banished from the Island and never allowed to return. But then they would be free to do more evil in Middle-earth. Ionwë’s father came to visit me, when I was allowed to have visitors outside my family, and told me I might do as I wished with his son, he had washed his hands of him, and Arasinya said she was in agreement with her father for once, and so was her mother. I remembered her telling me about her father’s rants about ‘mixing of races’ and how her mother had agreed emphatically, and I had to wonder about him casting off his son for following his own example. And I told him, ‘You made him what he was, and now you wish no more to do with him?’ And he looked startled, and said, ‘I have my beliefs, to be sure. But I have never condoned violence in any form or fashion, and my son has disgraced us beyond all recall. He committed the ultimate betrayal.’ I could but stare him in the face, thinking him as despicable as his son, if not more so, and after a moment he seemed cast down, and quickly turned to go.”
“Oh now,” Sam protested, “this don’t mean you took pity on that young rascal? I should hope not! His dad was right. He made his bed, now…” But he couldn’t quite finish the sentence.
“Not pity exactly,” Northlight said. “Just before his father left the room, he turned back and looked at me, and after a moment he said, ‘Just what WAS there between you and my daughter?’ And I looked him in the eye and said, ‘Friendship. No more and no less.’ He seemed about to say something else, but thought better of it, and left. I did not see him again. How was it there could be such people in the world, with no heart or conscience, no compunctions or feelings beyond what affects their own standing? But yes. My own former father was much the same.”
“But you didn’t turn out like him,” Sam pointed out.
“No…but perhaps I could have done so, eventually. If my mother had not made intercession for me.”
“I think not…meanin’ no disrespect. If you were aught like him, you wouldn’t of turned from Darkfin, nor come to the Island. And why didn’t that fellow’s sister turn out like that too? She chose not to be like them.”
“True, but she was exceptional, and he was much the opposite. And my mother’s much stronger character helped to counter my father’s influence, from which she removed the rest of us as best as she could. But my encounter with Ionwë’s father left me shaken and thoughtful. I was conflicted between that and seeing the effects Ionwë’s deed had upon my family. For yes, I think they suffered worse than I. I think it was harder on my Ada than anyone else, somehow.”
“I’m sure it weren’t no easier for your mum,” Sam said, surprised at himself for saying it, “nor Raven.” At the same time, he had been thinking, yes, it must have been hard on Mister Frodo in a different way. This wasn’t supposed to happen, after all. It would have been bad enough, had it happened in Middle-earth. But here? He had experienced joy and healing and peace, and come to see that he had done a great thing and a huge evil had been purged from the world. And yet this had happened, and he must have felt a failure all over again. He hadn’t gotten rid of evil after all, and now the Enemy was trying to take him all over again, striking at him through his beloved stepson, and…
“It broke him,” Northlight said, standing up and looking toward the window. Sam was startled; this was just what he had been thinking. “It was devastating to all of us, but to him…it was as if all that had been wrought in him during his stay on the Island had been undone. It was as if he had spent years building a beautiful house, putting a world and a lifetime of care and love and work into it, and just after he had got it all finished, someone came along from out of nowhere and torched it, and it burned before his eyes and he was powerless to save it. His faith was gone. His joy was over. His light was quenched. When I asked him what should be done with Ionwë and his companions, he looked at me and told me they should be put to death. I could scarcely believe my ears. Seeing the wreck of his soul was the worst thing that ever happened to me. He told me he could not speak of it, even to you. I said he should, no matter how hard it was, it would help him, but he said no, it would not. But I knew what I had to do. I had, somehow, to rebuild my father’s house. I had no idea how to go about it. But I knew, somehow, I had to do it. And I knew I could not do it alone.”
“At first,” Sam said, shaken to the core of his being, “he made it sound like you had just met with an accident on the road, or something. But at the same time, I had this feelin’ as he was holdin’ something back. He didn’t lie exactly. He just didn’t tell me the whole truth. I can understand why, bein’ a father myself thirteen times over. But even when it got to where he could tell me what happened, he still didn’t tell all. Sometimes it got to where I couldn’t hear him any more. That was the worst thing, I was terrified, that he was slippin’ away from me. Oh, I tried so hard to get through to him. To try and cast my thoughts his way, and if my family hadn’t of come first, I would of took ship and sailed. So how did you…rebuild the house? If you’ll pardon my askin’.”
Northlight sat down on the edge of the bed, looking down at his clenched hands.
“I decided I should become what he was before,” he said. “To start with, I would have to give Raven back her joy. She must have that. And I knew in order to do that, I would have to recover my own. I had to start from the inside out.”
“That makes sense,” Sam said, “although, well, much easier said than done, I should think.”
“Much,” Northlight agreed. “But in order to give my Ada his light back, I would have to give the others their lights as well…and that meant starting with my own. I asked Lord Elrond, in all seriousness, to make me well as soon as possible, telling him of my plan. He must have smiled inwardly, then told me he would do his best, but I must not rush the treatment, and I would do well to let others take care of me for a good while. And so I did.” He smiled a little. “I was loved to death--almost. Even after the way nearly everyone on the Island turned out for my wedding, I was still astounded at how beloved I truly was. People came by the dozens to see me, they brought me gifts, they sent me letters, helped with the upkeep of my house and gardens, and those of my parents. Their children sang songs for me, danced for me, wrote poems and told me stories, as if I were one of them. When I was allowed to get up, they offered to take me to the park, or to the sea-shore. And several of my students came to see me, telling me they hoped I would return soon, and they promised to see to it that no one would ever do me harm again. I think that is what saved the Light. And over and over, I pointed out to my Ada the esteem in which they all held me. I told him, ‘We must give Raven back her joy. That is the most important thing. We must keep the Light burning. Why don’t we sing your hymn anymore, Ada?’ Things like that. He said, ‘What if you had been killed, what then?’ And I pointed out to him that Lainadan the miller just happened to be where he was when I was attacked. He’d told me that had he been inside his house, his wife would not have let him go out when they heard all the uproar. He had no particular reason to be out that night, he said. He had just had a very strong feeling that he should go, and the metal tub, in which his wife had been making soap, was lying close to where he was, and she had not brought it in as she usually did, an unexpected visit from a cousin she had not seen in many years having distracted her from it. ‘Would you not think from that, that Someone was looking out for me?’ I said to my Ada. Once in a while, he would smile at me so sadly, it broke my heart. Nana said I must be patient, this would take time. A house could not be rebuilt overnight.
“And so finally, even as much as I did not want to, I decided I must visit Ionwë.”
“So you didn’t have him put to death,” Sam said. He felt somewhat relieved. Although he would have had the rogue put to death in a heartbeat had he harmed one of his children, he felt horrified at the thought of Mister Frodo saying as he should be. “What did you have done with him?”
“I decided he must be imprisoned…but not for a hundred years,” Northlight said. “I went to visit him, and learned that no one else had been to see him, not his parents, nor his sister, nor any of his former friends. No one but the Queen. She had been down to see him once a week, he told me. I didn’t know this, but I was impressed. He looked shocked to see me, as well he might. He insisted once more that he never meant to kill me.
“‘I didn’t even mean for it to go as far as it did,’ he said. ‘I meant to give you a good fright mostly. But I got caught up in the fury of the moment, and things got out of hand. I suppose the brandy didn’t help any. I know you don’t believe me, but truly I never meant to kill you, or even hurt you so badly as that.’ Then he asked me why I had spared his life. ‘Is it because you want me to live with what I did, and with the knowledge that everyone hates me now, even my own family?’ That took me by surprise. Then before I could answer, he said, looking at me with the profoundest despair I had ever seen, ‘I would you had not spared me. I cannot endure this punishment, if that is any satisfaction to you.’
“I looked straight at him through the prison-bars for a long moment without speaking. Then I said, ‘You and your friends have caused my family untold suffering, you know. You destroyed my bride’s joy in our wedding, and you wrecked my father’s soul within him. You broke my mother’s heart and disrupted the peace of the Island. It was the miller’s wife who told Raven what happened, and she said it was the hardest thing she ever had to do. It’s not merely what you did to me. You shattered the entire world of those who never wished you harm, who went through much so that you might enjoy a life of peace and safety and beauty. All this for a little revenge over a prank that you brought upon yourself? I do not believe for a moment that you really thought there was anything going on between your sister and myself.’
“He cringed back then. He kept his eyes averted, then turned away from me with his fists clenched. I think he was trying to think of something defiant to say. He turned back to look at me—trying to come up with a pitiful expression, and he did look rather pitiful, yet defensive also, wondering why he must endure this persecution—why must I try to make him feel guilty? And perhaps a touch of outrage that I thought I was being merciful to him, only to have the privilege of coming here to torment him like a trapped rat. And it occurred to me that perhaps that was exactly what I was doing. And I did not much like myself for it. But could I just push all my own feelings aside so easily as that, when something in me wished to rage at him, taunt him with his captivity, remind him of the shabby way he had treated his sister and ruined her innocent friendship with me, spent his days in selfish indulgence and reckless pursuits, undermining the peace of the Island…for yes, those feelings were there. And I do not like that he made me see the same side of myself that he had given free rein to in his own doings.”
“But he needed telling,” Sam pointed out. “Seems to me he was some spoilt piece of impudence that needed a good shaking up.”
“He needed it, yes, but there was more to it. I saw then that what was in him that made him act as he did, was in myself as well.”
“But you have control over it, M—Northlight. You don’t just give in to whatever you feel like doin’ at the moment, with no thought to whether it’s goin’ to hurt somebody else or not. You’re not like him, who just did what he pleased without a thought for nobody but hisself. We all have that side to us. Some of us just let it go where it will, like a contrary horse, where others of us know how to make it do our bidding.”
“Nicely put,” Northlight said with a little smile.
“And you had every right to feel all them things.”
“So I did, but it was knowing what to do with all those feelings that was the problem. And I found myself asking him why he hated me. He said he didn’t. I asked him why he had wanted to frighten me. He said he didn’t know exactly. I had a feeling he had been watching me closely, that he was somehow obsessed with me. Why this should be, I didn’t know, but I was curious. I wanted to study him as he had studied me. I said, ‘Did you know I would lose my powers after I was wedded to an elf-maiden?’ And he said, yes, he knew, someone had told him—he would not tell me who. ‘And you were biding your time, waiting until I lost them to strike at me?’ I said. And he said, ‘No, I was not. I suppose you’ll think I’m putting off my own actions on someone else…but it was Beleg who suggested the attack. He got up that gourd thing filled with gas to scare your horse. I wouldn’t have thought of that myself. I’m not sure what he had against you—I think he was just bored and saw the whole business as a lark. But with myself, it was different. I’m not sure what it was.’
“‘Perhaps you knew that fear was a new thing with me,’ I said to him, ‘and you wished me to know what it was.’ And he looked at me in stunned surprise, and said, ‘Perhaps so. After all, I am a coward, you know.’ ‘Yes, I know,’ I said with a little smile. And felt I had seen a gleam of light at last. ‘You have been studying me,’ I told him. ‘You are a mystery to me,’ he explained. ‘I was not used to the idea of people who could not feel pain, or fear, or all the things normal folk feel, and that you had powers the rest of us have not. I wanted to know, and at the same time I was afraid. And then you made a fool of me. Yes, I asked for it, but still it was a bit much. And I think I was jealous of you.’
“‘Jealous? Because of my powers?’ I said. ‘I’m not sure,’ he said, and I began to believe what he was saying. ‘Perhaps. But I think there was more to it.’ ‘Because of Raven?’ I suggested. Again he looked startled. ‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘I did consider her very beautiful. But she was not the sort I would have married, or even had much to do with. She was a dark-elf, and I would not approach such a one. Is it really so terrible to believe one should stay with one’s own kind?’ He looked pleadingly at me. ‘It is not terrible,’ I said, ‘and I thought the same once. I did not wish my mother to marry the Prince. He was of a different kind, I thought, and marrying was not known to our race. That was before I came to know him, and to realize just who and what he really was. And he was good to me before he knew who I was, and put what he saw as my needs before his own. And so I began to see him as my benefactor and that he and my mother were meant for each other…before I even knew that the Sea-Lord had chosen him for my mother’s mate. So in very truth, she was marrying her own kind. Their inner beings were like, even if their outer shells were different. So yes, people should stay with their own kind. It’s just that we have differing ideas of what one’s own kind truly is.’ And he was silent, turning this idea over in his mind.”
“And so you and he would become friends?” Sam felt this idea did not appeal to him at all. Although he admired Northlight for trying, it was his opinion that he should of stayed away.
“Well…I don’t think I would say friends exactly,” Northlight said. “Yet there did remain a certain bond between us, as there can be between enemies. I saw that peace and safety and beauty do not necessarily bring happiness, that one can have all that and still know naught but emptiness and darkness within one’s own soul. When I told Guilin of my visit, he said he thought I was doing the right thing. He said perhaps mercy is the best revenge after all, for it could plant a conscience in one's enemy, and he would begin to feel the prickles and stings of guilt and remorse, and be tormented by them all his days. ‘I know well those stings myself,’ he said, ‘and wouldn’t wish them on most folks, but I can make an exception for the likes of him.’ I said it had not been my intention to have him tormented all his days, and that even if he were, it would not make me feel any better, if I could not give my parents and my wife back their joy. But I did go visit Ionwë once a week, for I felt it was the right thing. Arasinya told me she went to see him the day after his capture, and he had spat at her and called her a filthy name. He asked me to carry a letter to her, and I did so. ‘I did not seal it,’ he told me. ‘You may read it if you like.’ ‘I shall not,’ I said. ‘It is for her.’ ‘Is that why you have been coming to see me?’ he asked me. ‘Because you wished to help her?’ ‘In part, yes,’ I said, then I looked him straight in the eye. ‘Do you not believe a male and a female can be simply friends?’ I asked him. He looked away in some embarrassment, then said, ‘No. I think the problem of lust would always come into it. Do you not?’
“I told him that before my marriage, I was incapable of lust. That I could feel it now, and did upon occasion, with so many lovely females about. ‘I am not perfect,’ I said, ‘but still I’ve no desire to stray from my bride. I consider her the most beautiful and enchanting lady on the face of the earth, and why should I go to any other? And your sister is happily wed, her husband far more attractive than myself…and certainly taller. Why should she prefer me to him?’ He blushed a little. ‘I see I have wronged you…and her,’ he said. ‘I tend to believe that others think as I do, and if they do not, I hate them for it, considering them fools or prigs or worse. I suppose it is wrong. But I know not how to think any other way.’ And then he said, ‘Please tell my sister I am sorry for my behavior. I do not know why I treated her as I did when we were children. I think I wanted all my parents’ attention, and then she came along and took some of it from me. And it seemed they expected more of me than they did of her, because I was male. I resented it that they did not expect so much of her. I don’t even know why they didn’t, because she was far more intelligent than I. She could memorize an entire poem in the space of an hour, that would have taken me days to learn. And she was much more curious about the things of the world, and could spend hours poring over a book, when I could scarcely bring myself even to open one. I hated that my parents insisted on my going to college instead of her, and resented her for not being allowed…even though she was the one who wanted to. And I hated you for helping her, for you were doing what I should have done. But I didn’t want to help her. I never knew what I really wanted.’”
“‘What do you want now?’ I asked him.
“‘To be anyone but myself,’ he said after a moment.
“I did not visit the others. They were imprisoned separately, and I had no wish to see them. It was Ionwë I was compelled to see. I told my Ada of my visits, and he asked me, ‘Why do you do this, my son?’ ‘Because I wish to be like you,’ I told him. ‘And to give Raven back her joy. And I think it is coming back to her. I have learnt so much from this experience, even as terrible as it was. I have learnt what it is to be human, and it is a hideous thing, yet very beautiful also. I have learnt that it is a terrible thing to hate the skin you were born into, to the point that you hate others for their skins also. And that beauty without cannot compensate for ugliness within. And that one must walk one’s path without looking back sometimes, and listen to the voice that leads one along without question or regret. And many other things.’
“And then, for the first time in months, I saw him smile as he used to, and he told me he was very proud of me. And I knew I had laid the foundation. And then Nana said something of the garden, and we got the idea to expand it, making it splendid…a setting for Ada’s new house.”
“And is Ionwë still imprisoned?” Sam asked.
“No,” Northlight smiled. “He was freed after six years. Istuion after nine. The others served for twenty.”
“Good,” Sam said.
“Grandmummy, pleeeeeeeease wear this,” Amaryllis begged, holding up a pretty skirt of dark green embroidered with pink and white flowers. “You should dress like us for the Faire. And wear matching ribbons in your hair. And pink and white flowers on your hat. And this lovely lace shawl.”
“Very well then, my lass,” Anemone said smiling, at the same time casting a worried glance toward the guestroom.
“Whatever is taking Daddy and Sam so long in there?” Amaryllis asked. “They’ve been talking in there for ages. I listened at the door for a minute, but couldn’t understand what they were saying.”
“They are getting to know each other,” Raven said smiling. “And you should not have been eavesdropping, little lady.”
“It was by accident,” Amaryllis pleaded. “I was coming from the bathhouse, and just happened to pass by the door. I only slowed down a little.”
“For a full minute?” Anemone laughed.
“It is a wide door,” Raven said with twinkling eyes.
Amaryllis giggled uproariously. Frodo smiled to himself as he knocked on the guestroom door.
“Hullo?” he called.
“Come in, Ada,” Northlight said. Frodo entered, wearing an ivory-colored suit with a crimson cravat and silver studs. Northlight smiled, with more than usual tenderness.
“Are we ready to go?” Frodo asked. He was wearing his eyeglass, but it didn’t take away from his light one jot, thought Sam, looking at him in slow wonder. He looked handsome as ever, and even more shining.
His house was rebuilt, and no mistaking. And a fair and wondrous structure it was.