Lily had awakened as usual, surprised that Rose was not lying at her side or was dressing. Quickly readying herself, she hurried downstairs, wondering why her cousin had not waited for her. In the bustling kitchen, Aunt flourished her wooden spoon as she rapped out orders, and Lily hurried to obey. When Uncle asked, “Where’s Rose?” Lily told the truth; she didn’t know.
She didn’t miss the concerned looks exchanged by Aunt Vanessë and Uncle Feren. Besides the ties of blood, their positions as cook and buhdelier made them responsible for the safety of the staff at the House of Hammer & Forge, the Dwarven embassy that was formerly House Ornamir.
They had just finished the Standing Silence and sat down to break their fast in the dining-chamber, when Rose entered, wearing in her cloak. She drifted to her seat, dreamy-eyed.
“Wot’s that you got?” Lily asked, just before Aunt demanded, “Where’ve you been all this time, Rose?”
“Seein’ Egil an’ the Rohirrim off back to Rohan,” she answered, putting whatever it was on her knees, lapping the folds of the cloak over it.
Lily scowled as she noticed the fleeting smiles on others’ faces, and twitched the cloak aside, grabbing. “What’s this you got? Let’s see it!”
And Rose, quiet, biddable Rose, pushed her back, hard, saying sharply. “Nothin’ o’ yourn! Leave it be!”
Determined, Lily stretched again, grabbing something wooden, tapered and flat, and held it up, out of her shorter cousin’s reach. “A stick? You left th’ ‘ouse an’ our work t’ get some stick?” and tossed it to the floor.
Rose slapped her and burst into tears, getting off the bench in a flurry of skirts, followed by a furious Lily. She got a satisfying grip on a handful of Rose’s loosened hair before hands hauled her backwards. She kicked out, and was hoisted off the floor, dangling between the grips of two of the Dwarves quartered there. Two others helped Rose to her feet, brushing at her disordered skirts.
“QUIET!” thundered Lord Gimli. “Nahemion, bring me that object!”
Except for Rose’s sobs, the room was very still as the footman--her own brother--obeyed.
Lord Gimli turned the stick over in his hands, looking mystified. “What is this tool?”
“’Tis similar to one in the laundry,” one of the Dwarves holding Lily observed.
“May I see it?” asked Lady Silwen. “Ah, a washing-bat. Not the usual form; ours tend to be longer and thinner, and less carving. This ridging on the back is unusual.”
“For s-scrubbin’,‘s well’s a-liftin’ o’ the clothes,” Rose said unevenly. “’Tis like t’ the ones in Rohan.”
“I see. My lord Gimli, may I have your leave to deal with this matter?” the Lady of Ornamir asked.
“Of course,” he agreed.
“My thanks. So you have an understanding with Egil, Rose?”
Rose wiped her eyes and smiled, blooming before their eyes from her accustomed mousiness to a new radiance. “Aye, my lady.”
“Good. Sit down and eat. Mistess Samno, could you please spare Lily after breakfast to attend me?”
“I can, my lady.” From the way Aunt bit off the words, Lily knew she would be getting an earful from her afterward. She didn’t dare protest, just choked down her porridge and tea, taking care not to even glance at Rose. No one seemed inclined to look at Lily as conversation on other topics resumed around her small, excluded pool of silence. Rose, the bat cradled in one arm, accepted their congratulations happily.
The meal eventually dragged to an end; as Nahemion and Lady Gil wheeled the table-carts over to clear the plates, bowls and mugs onto them, the rest scattered, Lady Silwen summoning Lily with a gesture.
Lily was uncomfortably aware of their footsteps as she trailed the lady upstairs to her private sitting-room. Swallowing nervously, she closed the door and came to stand where indicated as Lady Silwen opened a drawer in a small table by her chair.
“All right, Lily. Suppose you tell me your share in what just happened.”
“That Rose come in late, a-shirkin’ ‘er work—“ she began indignantly.
“Well, she went out ‘thout permission, could ha’ been anywheres—“
“Stop. Think what you are saying.”
Lady Silwen wasn’t as warm as her daughter-in-love, and suddenly Lily longed for Lady Silma to be there instead of the older noblewoman who sat there encased in elegant silks so aloofly. Exasperation was tingeing her calm tones, and Lily knew that she was close to losing her job.
“My lady?” she asked, confused.
“I asked you to tell me your share of this unseemly outburst, not to enumerate Rose’s shortcomings. Begin again.”
“I was ‘most late this morn,‘cos Rose wasn’t there; usually her movin’ ‘round wakes me up. Aunt was grumpy, ‘cos I couldn’t hustle fast enough t’ suit her, a-doin’ both my work an’ hers,” she said sullenly, risking a look at Lady Silwen’s attentive face. Uncorrected, she continued, “’Nen she come skippin’ in late, blithe’s a lark, an’ it riled me.”
“So you chose to sneer at something she evidently valued, snatch it from her, and toss it away, then attack her when she tried to pick it up.”
“She slapped me fust!”
“Before or after you snipped at her?”
Lily gazed down at the floor in front of her feet. “After,” she muttered.
“Please fetch that stool here.”
Was Lady Silwen going to bend her over it and slipper her behind? She was a grown woman!—But ignoble as that would be (and painful), it was preferable to being sent away with no character. Lily carried it, her rough fingers catching on the fine fabric that covered the padded top.
“Sit down, please. Hold out your hands.”
Lily carefully smoothed her skirts and complied. It would be hard to work if her hands were swollen from being hit.
Lady Silwen leaned forward, putting whatever it was she had taken from the drawer on Lily’s palms. It was heavier than she expected, and she looked in surprise at a small doll, carved from some kind of dark wood, seated cross-legged, head tilted slightly. The features were barely indicated, or many details of its clothing.
Mystified, she looked up. “A doll, my lady?”
Instead of sitting back (not that she ever slumped against a backrest; you could have easily put a firkin of butter between Lady Silwen’s erect spine and any seatback behind her), Lady Silwen still leaned forward, her cool smooth fingers under Lily’s.
“I call it Poppet. My mother gave it to me just before she died. It was given to her by her mother before her. I believe the wood is gumumiti, from the far South and East, so it traveled many leagues by land and sea to arrive in Dol Amroth.”
“Is it a ‘eathan idol?”
“No, although it does have a serious use, or so I was told. It isn’t a plaything.”
“But wot’s it for?”
“Listening. This is what I want you to do, Lily: you will stay here this morning, holding Poppet. While you do so, you are to think about Rose. Remember all you honestly know of her, the facts that you know. You are to say that to Poppet, who will listen. But you must listen too, to what you are saying, and feeling as you say it. Begin when you first met Rose, and continue until the end of your interactions with her, just before you came upstairs with me.”
“We’ll discuss that later. You may begin when I leave the room. It must be done as thoroughly as you would scour a pot. Do you understand? Will you do so?”
“I will, my lady,” Lily promised.
She was barely aware of the door closing behind her employer as she turned the small figure in her hands, staring intently at it, feeling it. Some things she touched were just things. Some were different, pleasant to the touch and comforting to have, like warm clothes and sturdy shoes or a pretty string of beads or a bright ribbon, or the promise of the few coins she had ever had to buy things with. This was as different from the small rag-doll she had had, or the wax ones she’d glimpsed nobles’ little daughters carrying as gold from pinchbeck. Imagine how far it had come! She had little idea of where places were beyond the city-walls, although Rose and Egil had pored over a book of maps…Here Lady Silwen had set her a task, and already she hadn’t even begun!
It seemed a daft thing to do; why not simply scold and punish her, or dismiss her and be done? But the ways of nobles were often peculiar; look at all the different ways of doing things she and Rose had learned to do since being brought there, from a new way to braid their hair to using a darning-needle differently to clearing a table! There probably wasn’t a place in all Minas Tirith where the entire household, from an Ambassador down to the newest, lowest servant, sat down to eat together as a matter of course. That had seemed daft, at first, but she had liked it, had liked all the different things they talked about, and the gravely courteous way they were listened to. She’d noticed that everyone was more apt to sit tall and handle their food neatly at those meals, and she’d liked that too.
So had Rose.
“Begin at the beginning.” When had she met Rose? It seemed as if they had always known each other, ever since they were tiny. No, now she remembered, Rose had come when her parents died, a tiny solemn-faced scrap of a tot in a black dress too big for her. Lily had been delighted to have a sister in addition to her nine brothers, even though her mother had not been too happy to have another mouth to feed. But throughout their growing, they had shared everything, and Rose had never been pushy or insistent—although she had a droll humor that always made Lily both laugh and pause to think. She had been good about the many times Lily’s more impulsive actions had landed them both in trouble, and Lily couldn’t recall a single instance of a tiff when Rose didn’t apologize first. Sometimes it infuriated Lily, how contained Rose was, so quiet in herself when Lily felt such tempests.
“Still waters run deep,” the old saying was. Eleven-year-old Lily had jumped into the Anduin near Harlond to test that out one day on a rare venture outside the walls, and nine-year-old Rose had jumped in too to try to save her. Fished out by a seaman, both girls were punished for that, the beginning of Lily’s defiance of her mother’s rules that eventually led to their leaving home to ask Aunt what they could do on their own. Her and Uncle Feren’s response had been to bring them, and Nehmeion, along to House Ornamir that was now the embassy.
Lily had boasted of their places to her mother just a week past, and been annoyed when Rose sought to shush her. “Lady Silma wouldn’t brag, nor Lady Silwen,” Rose had said.
“We ain’t ladies,” Lily had retorted. “No more’n we’re a-goin’ t’ be married women! ‘Tis work for us, an’ why shouldn’t we be proud o’ good places?”
Her mother had sniffed, “Be careful your high-nose don’t make you trip over your own two feet, girl!” But Rose hadn’t refuted Lily’s pronouncement.
“I knowed she couldn’t,” Lily said now to Poppet. “’Ow could she? Most o’ the young men we might ‘a’ wed’s a-lyin’ dead from the War as was, or so bad ‘urt we couldn’t ‘ave ‘em. Ain’t many the likes o’ Rhylla’s Tam, wot’s ‘ole an’ ‘ale ‘cept for ‘is ‘and from birth, or Egil, ‘oo’s missin’ ‘is ear.” She shuddered, visualizing his scar, now mostly hidden under the thick blond hair growing out, but vividly recalled from when it was clipped short a few moon-turns back when the Rohirrim had first come.
“I didn’ mind a-waitin’ on ‘em,” she confided. “No decent woman would, after the way they saved us from the Black Rider’s army, but I don’t know ‘ow she could love ‘un! All of ‘em, crippled an’ scarred some’ow.” She shuddered. “Not like Murl was, when ‘e marched off, so young an’ ‘andsome in ‘is uniform—“ Her breath caught. “Murl loved Rose! The way ‘e looked at ‘er—ain’t no man ever looked at me that way, an’ never will. ‘Ow fair is it that she ‘ad Murl—or would ‘a’, if ‘n ‘e’d come home—an’ now Egil too?”
She was standing. “’M I that small-minded? Did I get mean with Rose ‘cos I was jealous?” she whispered. “I ain’t like that! Am I?”
The question hung in the air. She looked around. Over on another table was a hand-mirror on a slender handle, normally kept in the bedroom. Almost timidly, she went over and picked it up, then set it facedown, as it had been, half-afraid to look into its polished depths. “Rose looked so pretty when she come in—no, she looked downright beauty-ful,” she said. “Reckon she didn’ sleep much last night, she was so upset when we went t’ bed. I’ll bet nobody else noticed, but I did, knowin’ ‘er so good. But she was just a-shinin’ t’day. One o’ the biggest minutes a maid ‘as is tellin’ folkses she’s betrothed, an’ I spoilt it. Nay, I ain’ta- touchin’ ‘at mirror! ‘Twouldn’t show me no bonny face, just a spiteful ‘un.
“All our lives, I knowed as I was thought the prettiest, ‘cos I speak up for m’self, I give out as much sauce’s I got from the lads, but ain’t nobody ever looked at me the way Egil an’ Murl looked at ‘er. Why?”
She sighed. “’Cos I ain’t ‘alf the woman she is, for all she’s a norphan an’ quiet-like. She’s got a bigger ‘eart’n I does. ‘F’n it’d been me was betrothed, she’d never ‘a’ acted the way I done, she’d just ‘a’ been glad for me. I acted like a little spoiled brat! Wot if she don’t never speak t’ me again, ‘fore she goes to Rohan t’ be with Egil? I won’t ha’ a man, an’ I won’t even ‘ave Rose!”
Her tears fell on the figure’s head, and she wiped them away. “S-sorry, Poppet. Valar, wot can I do? I’m not twenty yet! I’ll be all ‘lone, always, an’ I could live t’ be older’n Aunt, even older’n Gammy was, an’ she was ‘most two hundred when she went to Mandos!”
Again she glanced around the room. This time it seemed as if her gaze was drawn to the small corner altar to Ulmo. As an inlander, Lily wasn’t too familiar with the Ocean Vala, but she knelt in front of it. In addition to the candle and incense burner, Lady Silwen had a delicately whorled shell and a blue-green stone veined in black set out with two vessels of water below a beautifully embroidered wall-mat of sea-colors and shapes that Lily had never seen before. Next to shell and stone was a smaller stone, grey touched with red. She found herself addressing a Vala she had never really considered. “Lady Nienna the Grey,” she said softly, “you weep for us ‘oo sorrow. C’n you teach me t’ get through these bad things inside o’ me? C’n you teach me ‘ow t’ manage t’ live all m’ years by m’self? C’n you please ‘elp me be nicer, an’ more like Rose? C’n you ‘elp me slow down m’ saucy tongue an’ think afore I talk an’ act? I run like a stone a-rollin’ down a ‘ill, skippin’ an’ skiddin’in the dust. I don’t want t’ be like this no more!”
When Lady Silwen knocked and opened her sitting-room door, Lily was still sitting on the stool, and immediately rose to her feet to curtsey. In one hand, she held the figure; in the other a scrap of cloth in which a needle trailed a strand of thread.
“How are you getting on, Lily?”
“I wants—“ she said hoarsely, and cleared her throat. “Pardon, my lady. I wants t’ thank you for the loan o’ your Poppet. She’s tol’ me I got t’ see Rose. May I?”
Lady Silwen stepped aside, and Rose came in.
Lily folded up her sewing, stuffed it into her apron pocket, held the figure in both hands. Her voice trembled. “Rose, I been real bad t’ you. I was ‘s hateful ‘s I could be this morn.”
“Aye, you was,” Rose agreed.
“I’m sorry. ‘Tweren’t your doin’. I was jealous ‘s a cat. Murl loved you ‘stead o’ me, an’ so’s Egil. I c’n see why ‘twas you got their ‘earts an’ not me. ‘F I was a man, likely I’d feel the same, ‘cos you d’serve it. I’m sorry I spoilt your tellin’ your betrothal t’day, an’ I wouldn’t blame you ‘f you never speak t’ me again. For true, I’m glad you found your love, though I’ll miss you somethin’ awful when you wed. I ‘ope’s you’ll forgive me someday.” Her swollen eyes blurred with tears.
Rose’s cool hand clasped hers. “A’ course I do! I forgive you now.”
“You shouldn’t ought to. I was real bad.”
“Aye, you was,” Rose agreed again. “But ‘ow c’n I ask you t’ stand with me when I wed, ‘f’n we’re on the outs?”
“Y’ wants me t’ stand with you?”
“’Oo else but m’ cousin’s wot's like m’ sister?”
They hugged each other before Rose held her off. “Mind, I’ll clip you over th’ear ‘f you ever act that way again!”
“Valar smite ‘f I ever do! Nienna ‘elp me!” Lily disengaged herself from Rose and turned to Lady Silwen. “My lady, c’n I gets started on m’ punishment now?”
“I said that we’d discuss it,” her employer said. “Excuse us, please, Rose.”
“She said’s ‘ow she’s sorry,” Rose said anxiously.
“I’m aware of that. Please close the door as you leave.”
Rose curtseyed and obeyed, sending Lily an encouraging look as she did so.
“May I have Poppet back, Lily?”
Lily stroked the figure’s head once and held it out. “Thankee for ‘er, my lady.”
“Or do you think you need her for a while?”
“Nay, ‘cos I c’n talk with Rose. I stopped when M—when the War got close. I might could ask you t’ borrow ‘er for a bit when Rose goes. Meanstwhiles, what do I got t’ do?”
“What do you think would be just?”
Lily thought. “It ain’t jus’ what I done t’day,” she said earnestly. “’Tis ‘at I needs t’ change m’self inside, an’ that’ll take a long, long time. I don’t know ‘zactly ‘ow, but I think—I think—“
“What do you think?”
“My lady, you gots a temper, same’s me, only you don’t lose it. I fire up fast, like paper burnin’, only I scorch m’self. I ast m’self ‘ow you keep from a-doin’ that.”
Lady Silwen gazed at her. “You’re also most truthful, almost uncomfortably so!”
Lily hung her head. “I’m sorry.”
“Nay, truth is valuable. You simply need to learn how to be a bit more tactful in expressing it.”
“Full o’ tackses like a ‘arness?” she asked.
“No, Lily. Tactful means to speak with courtesy, without hurting someone’s feelings. Diplomacy is another word for that skill. But you are correct, I do have a temper, and it does take a good deal of effort to master it instead of it mastering me. Self-control is like a bridle on a horse, so it can run but not bolt. Dear me! I sound like a woman of Rohan, when normally I would have said it was like a rudder on a boat, so the boat can be steered instead of at the mercy of a current!”
“I c’n see the ‘orse in my mind more easy’n I can a boat. What’s a rudder?”
“A way of steering a boat or ship. And properly speaking, it’s ‘easier,’ not ‘more easy.’ I spent a good deal of time learning to speak correctly, so I tend to notice when others don’t.”
“I c’n see what you mean. ‘Most folk I know ‘ud say you know I speak wrong ‘cos I’m ignorant and low-class, but ‘stead you put it nicer, uh, more nicely.”
“I find that most people can speak more nicely, as you just did, but they are more used to speaking the way they were brought up. You aren’t low-class, Lily. Uneducated in some ways, aye, but that is no fault of your own.”
“That’s kind o’ you, my lady. Thankee.”
“This is what a rudder looks like.” She went to a drawer and took out a set of tablets, with blue covers and a separate stylus, and drew one on a boat for Lily to see, then to her astonishment, handed them to her. “Look at it when you’re tempted to speak too quickly, or at least picture it in your mind.”
“My lady—they’s twelve Valar, ain’t they?”
“Yes, under Eru Iluvatar, and the Maiar are below them. Why?”
“’Ow’d you come t’ worship Ulmo, ‘stead o’ the others, ‘r a diff’rent ‘un? If’n that ain’t out o’ m’ place t’ask?”
Lady Silwen’s eyes took on a distant look. “I was younger than you are when I got what I thought at the time was my heart’s desire—and that took me far from all I knew. All that was familiar from home was knowing that Ulmo was and always will be the Vala of the waters, and I took him for my patron. I’ve had a special devotion for him and to a lesser degree, the Maiar Ossë and Unien. It comforts me to know that not only is Ulmo the King of the Ocean, but the Spirit of the Veins of Earth as well. That’s why I have two vessels of water, the larger salt for Ulmo and Ossë, the smaller fresh water for she who is the Everwater. But worship is a thing of one’s Kindred and background.”
“Kindred? Is that the same as kin, like Aunt an’ Uncle an’ m’ cousins?”
“The two words have the same root, but Kindred usually refers to what kind of being one is. For example, Lord Gimli and the other Dwarves all have Aulë the Maker as their patron; after all, he created and awakened them. The High Elves of Lórien and Rivendell are close to Lady Elbereth Star-Kindler, while I believe Prince Legolas of the Wood-Elves and his folk also revere Lady Yavanna. But as a warrior, he no doubt reveres Lord Oromë, whom the Rohirrim call Béma.”
“So a body c’n ‘ave more’n one at a time?”
“I don’t see why not. Most people never think about it, or if they do, they don’t discuss it.—But there is nothing wrong with your asking questions,” she added as Lily’s face fell. “I prefer your asking, Lily, rather than getting wrong ideas. If I don’t know the answers, (for after all, I’m not very wise), I will try to help you find the right ones. Some answers are only found after long seeking and testing; I can only tell you what I have learned in my own life.”
“That’s right good o’ you, my lady,” Lily said. “I’ll take best care o’ these ‘ere tablets, an’ get ‘em back t’ you soon’s I learn the shape o’ the rudder clear in m’ ‘ead.”
“It isn’t magic, you know,” Lady Silwen cautioned her. “You will have days when you feel as if you are walking in soft sand, with the grains sliding into each footprint as fast as you make it, instead of on the firmer ground of established habit. Silma told me a scholar believed it takes thirty days to learn a new task, repeating it every day. What I am in the habit of doing is to think about the day every night at bedtime, how I behaved, and how I can change the mistakes I made another time. After a while, I began spending a few minutes every morning, thinking about the day and how I wanted to be. Now I cannot feel properly awake or ready to sleep unless I do so.”
“I c’n do that!” Lily declared. “Reckon I’d ought t’ ask Rose ‘ow I c’n ‘elp ‘er more, and spend more time with the hurt folk you’re tendin’. Mayhap ‘f I do ‘at, I’ll be a nicer person. She saw more’n Egil’s ‘avin’ only one ear, after all. Not,” she added hastily, “’at I ‘spect I’ll fall in love with any of ‘un, I don’t, but ‘f I act like I got a better ‘eart like ‘er, ‘appen it might rub off on me in time.”
To the end of her long life, Lily never forgot how Lady Silwen’s eyes lit with affection as she said that. “What an excellent resolution! Silma would be able to talk with you about the philosophic question of changing from the inside out, or the outside inwardly. I cannot, but I will pray for your success in this long endeavour you’ve set yourself. Keep at it, dear lass, and you will become a Woman to be proud of!”
“Thankee, my—“ She was interrupted by a rap at the door.
“Come!” said Lady Silwen, and Aunt’s anxious face appeared.
“Pardon, my lady, but c’uld Lily come an’ ‘elp in the kitchens? ‘Ere ‘tis almost noon, an’ not all the dustin’ done nor the taters peeled.”
“Very well, Mistress Samno, Lily may go. And Lily, if you have any questions, please do speak with me.”
Lily gave her a proper curtsey instead of her usual bob. “I will, my lady.”
“Then you may go.”
At first often those around her would wonder at her pausing and whispering, “Rudder!”
A month later, on her birthing-day, in addition to Aunt’s cake and the usual small presents of ribbons and so on, Lily was delighted to receive a set of tablets of her own, with a cunning little stylus that fit inside the binding, and a tiny figure carved on the leather cover, with a tilted head, and the small, red-veined grey stone from Lady Silwen’s altar, now strung on a silver chain. She also received the offer of becoming Lady Silwen’s own personal maid, with opportunities of travel with her to and from Rohan, so that when Rose moved to Egil’s farm outside Aldburg for good, giving up her laundry work for House Ornamir, the cousins would be able to sometimes see each other.