Bear Me Away! - Part IX
I had been at the house of Lord Elrond for almost a year when Estë pronounced me cured.
"You have made a splendid recovery," she told me smiling. "You may be proud that you were such a good patient, and did as you were told so diligently, although I know it must have been very tiresome for you at whiles."
"Well...I wasn't always so good," I said ducking my head, thinking how Gandalf and Bilbo would have slapped their thighs if they had been present. "I imagine sometimes I must have been...rather difficult."
She laughed a little. "Then you must be of stern stuff indeed. But, in order to retain your healing to the fullest extent, you must continue to work at it. You are being given a house of your own, and you must keep it up. The work will not be very hard, and you will have all the help you need. Of course, you are welcome to live with the family of Elrond if you wish, but if you so choose, you will not reach the highest pinnacle of health and happiness of which you are capable. I think you will very much like the place. It is a beautiful spot near the shore, not far from the City. Is there anything else you wish for?"
"Peace," I said, "although, truly, I am at peace now."
"Anything else?" she asked with raised eyebrows.
"Well," I thought for a moment, "those orange-fruits, may I have some seeds or cuttings so I might plant some trees around the house?"
She burst into a peal of quite lovely laughter. "There is a veritable grove of them already there, and they bear fruit all year round. You shall have all you want. Is there nothing else you could ask?"
I thought hard. "I would like a pony and cart so I can go to the Temple at least once a week. It might be too great a distance for Bilbo to walk."
"Consider it done," she said, smiling, about what, I could not guess. "But surely there is some other thing you could wish, or should I not ask?"
"I doubt even the Valar could supply it," I said looking out the window and hoped she would not ask what it was. Recently I had been getting a certain visitor to my dreams. I would be in the bath, and notice a goldfish swimming in the tub, one of quite uncommon beauty and grace, and when I tried to catch it, it eluded me, but after the third time it was mine, and it turned into a lovely girl just my size, with rippling hair of dark gold and large violet eyes, a red smiling mouth, and a figure of perfect dainty proportions. She would laugh and splash me when I sat gazing at her, then stand in the water with her thin silvery gown clinging wetly, and bend down to me, her hair dripping warmly on my face, and I would feel her lips touch my brow and then my eyelids, my lips and then my shoulders.... I told no one about her, of course. I thought of her as a gift, my own sweet secret, and was grateful that Bilbo was such a deep sleeper when I woke from the dreams with a cry of joy. I was content with the dream, but a little worried that once I had moved out of Elrond's house, she might not follow....
But it seemed absurd to ask for a dream, so I did not.
Meanwhile, much had happened. Lady Galadriel was made queen of the Island. That was my doing, or so I was told. There was a council meeting in which I was included, and I was asked whom I thought should rule the Island. And I answered right up without even really thinking. If I'd had a little more time to think, I might have said Gandalf--or Olórin as he was named here, but to me he was always Gandalf--but deep down I knew he didn't want the position. And there were no other nominees, so there we were with the Lady, who, I knew wished to be Queen, also. The coronation was held--naturally--by the White Tree, and Gandalf did the crowning, and I handed the crown to him. It was a little eerie, yet thrilling. I had been asked to write a poem for the occasion, and so I did, but it was Lord Elrond who read it aloud, since his voice carried much better than mine in the crowd. I found it strange and sad she should be standing up there with no King beside her...but he would come, someday.
It was strange, also, with that mosaic behind her. Eventually there would be another alongside of it, and the background would be day-sky blue with a garden of flowers, and the head would be looking toward the other, and the hair would be sand-gold and the eyes would be brown and the garment of red ...but that would not be for a very long time yet, either.
The Queen moved into the Royal Palace, which was in the middle of the city high on a hill, and Lord Elrond and his family moved in also, and his old house was given to Gandalf. Lady Ríannor would stay at the palace also, until she had learned to live in the Light, and I could make a pretty fair guess where she would be living once that came about. I was welcome to live there as well, and should regard myself as a member of the family. In fact, since the House of Elrond was now considered the Royal Family, I was made a prince, without even being asked if I wanted to be one. It was an honor that took my breath away, although I would be lying if I said the idea was without a certain appeal. I remembered how Pippin had told me he was reckoned a prince when he was first brought to Minas Tirith, but now I was a prince in reality, and I wondered what he would have said to that.
However, although I was officially a Prince, I need not live as one--I might have declined the conferral otherwise. I could continue to dress as a hobbit, and dwell with Bilbo in the small house that was being awarded to me. Admittedly, the Palace was a place of untold splendors, which made the Hall of Kings look trifling by comparison. But it was just a bit too splendid. And when I saw my new home, I fell completely in love.
It was situated by a cove with several waterfalls of varying sizes, amid palm-trees and flowering vines and bushes. These were inhabited by birds the like of which I had never seen before, of gem-like colors and long curving tails and fluffy crests and ruffs, and there were swans on the cove and ibises and flamingoes, and hummingbirds among the flowers, and perfectly amazing butterflies and fascinating insects and fishes. And dazzling rock formations and cliffs, and behind the waterfalls, I would find were caves that rivaled the fabled Helm's Deep caverns. The house overlooked this cove and afforded a view of the beach as well. It had belonged to a wealthy Elf who was an official in the City. He had donated it to us, and said we might stay there as long as we lived. It was, of course, made to accommodate big folk, but furniture had been made of a size to suit Bilbo and me, although there was also furniture for big people as well, and a guest room for any visitors we cared to invite. It had a thatched roof and a terrace out front as wide as the entire house, and yes, the grove of orange-trees and date-palms out back, along with a sizable garden and small vineyard, and a little spring-house in front, atop the small spring that would supply our water. I still maintain that it is the most enchanting spot on the entire Island!
After we were moved in, of course I could hardly wait to explore my new surroundings. Bilbo was not up to that, so Gandalf kept him company on the terrace while Galendur took me on a tour of the end of the Island. He didn't know all of it, himself, but he had seen much of it, and he had a boat in which we could go exploring the caves behind the waterfalls. He and Tilwen had a small house on the edge of the City, not far from ours.
"Now don't you go getting my boy lost in those caves," Bilbo told him the first time Galendur came to fetch me to go exploring. "Or you'll have Bilbo Baggins to answer to, young fellow." He waved his cane in the air for emphasis. Galendur laughed good-naturedly.
"Til would beat you to it, I'm sure," he said. "She thinks young Baggins here hung the moon. Makes me bloody jealous sometimes."
"You mean, he didn't?" Bilbo said and Gandalf and Galendur and I laughed out loud. It tickled me how plainly Galendur was dressed now. A grey tunic over a simple white shirt and grey leggings, and sturdy boots formed his usual outfit now, his only concession to fancy dress being a beautifully tooled leather belt, and he had trimmed his hair to just above shoulder length. Even for an Elf he was handsome, and I hadn't even found him attractive at our first meeting, just silly and overdone. He only dressed to the nines for formal occasions any more. And much as he enjoyed playing the courtier now and then, I think he preferred plain living on the whole.
"I've cast off my fine feathers," he informed me when I commented. "People on the Island just aren't impressed by that sort of thing, you know? They have this peculiar fixation on what's on the inside of you, as opposed to what's on the outside. It's taken a good deal of getting used to, but I think I'm slowly getting the hang of it, even though I'm half mortal and not always so quick on the uptake."
"Well, I think you've done a splendid job arranging the inside of you," I said as we stepped down into his boat. He had helped me to build a hobbit-sized boat, but as it was rather a tight squeeze for him, we were taking his.
"Really now. You didn't much like me the first time you met me, now did you, Baggins?" This being what he called me now, for he found the name amusing, and I was not annoyed by it.
"Couldn't bear you, if you must know," I said cheerily. "But you grew on me rather quickly."
"Yes," I laughed. "Like moss."
"Or slime, perhaps?" He gave me a wink.
"Yes, that's it exactly. Slime." Our laughter echoed in the cave walls. It was a bit cold inside, so we took our cloaks. A lantern sat between us in the boat. He sat in back so that I didn't have to lean over to see around him.
I'd told him about my original plans for the poem, about how I'd had him taking down a mumak single-handedly and all that. He looked at me in complete astonishment, then laughed so hard tears came out of his eyes, and I laughed too until I nearly wet myself, and he told me I was the world's absolute limit and he knew we were going to be great friends. I enjoyed his company immensely. He had a crazy sense of humor that was by turns childish, witty, bawdy, or just plain silly. He was a natural-born dare-devil and show-off, and regularly performed in the City for the entertainment of the younger folks, stunt-riding on his horse, leaping hurdles, popping out candle-flames with a whip, or rope tricks--he could do amazing things with a bit of rope, make a huge loop and spin it around and around and jump through it, throw it around unlikely objects...not the least of which was a whale, a rather small one, which I named Flossy, who inhabited the water near the white cliffs a ways from my cove. He and I figured how to train dolphins and whales to perform tricks as well. I would stand on a rock that jutted up out of the water and hold up a fish, and Flossy would leap upwards and he would toss the rope-harness he had fashioned around her, and I would throw the fish in the air and the whale would fly right up and catch the fish with Galendur standing on her back. Once, quite unexpectedly, he came up and snatched me off the rock, and we rode Flossy together, she sometimes leaping very high indeed, while the children on the shore jumped up and down and cheered in delirious excitement.
Sometimes Tilwen's brother-in-law, Seragon, joined us. He was as unlike Galendur as could be, a serious and arty fellow who took great pleasure in writing down his opinion of people's artworks, writing comments that were often disparaging in the extreme, so that I decided not to show him my poetry even after Galendur bragged on it most enthusiastically. What could be the point of writing such reports, I could not begin to imagine, but Seragon took this activity very seriously indeed. He made observations that were completely beyond me, dealing with "perspective" and "spatial organization" and what not. He claimed was constantly drawing analogies between natural wonders and the human condition--the caves, for example, symbolized "the untold potentiality of the infinite riches of the soul"; then he would look at me in great earnest and say, "Think you could use that in a poem?"
"He's do-lally," Galendur said to me with a wink after Seragon turned home. "No harm in him though. Just full of hot air. Although I imagine the same has been said of me. But do you know what? When he got a load of that mosaic in the town-square, he was rendered as speechless as everybody else at the sight of it. I don't think he's ever written one ***ed word about it. Isn't that corking?"
Galendur challenged Lord Elrond one day, at the arena, to a sparring-match--there was a sports center in the City, consisting of a race-track, a playing-field, and an arena indoors. We went quite often.
"He has style, doesn't he?" I said as I watched Galendur and Elrond in the arena. Both Elves seemed to take themselves very seriously, moving with feline grace and agility that I envied a little.
"Your loyalty should be with Lord Elrond, my lad," Bilbo told me sternly. "Not with that young upstart. Did anyone ever hear the like?"
"Lord Elrond has a good form," I said impishly, "but his technique is hopelessly out of date. Galendur could teach him a few things."
Bilbo snorted, shaking his head. "Young folks these days," he said, "they think they know everything. Now, when I was a lad--"
He broke off as Lord Elrond took quite a hit and Tilwen tossed a little bouquet to her husband and the rest of the spectators broke into cheers. Lyrien, wedged up between me and her mum, bounced up and down in her seat, blowing kisses to her uncle with both hands. Elrond stood up graciously and shook hands with Galendur, and took some lessons from him after that.
As did Ríannor. She learned very quickly, and was enthralling to watch, like a dancer, full of fire and grace and rhythm. Gandalf could hardly get enough of watching her. Nor could I.
One day he seemed troubled in his mind as we sat out on the beach smoking late one evening, Bilbo having long since gone to bed.
"I'm feeling guilty," he confessed, "as if I had no right to approach her. It was you who led her into the Light, while I did nothing at all. I couldn't get past the fact that she had supported Sauron, was in part responsible for his rise to power. I know he would have risen without any help from her, but the fact that she actually did ally herself with him...yes, she did it to advance her son, but still. And she would have been responsible for the death of Isildur, if someone else had not gotten to him ahead of her, and she so often infuriated her enemies that they were provoked into declaring war, causing untold carnage....Well, I could only keep my distance. But despite everything Sauron did to you, you looked beyond it. I saw only what she had been; you saw what she could be."
"I didn't lead her into the Light," I said digging a toe into the sand, letting a wave wash over my foot. "It was Lady Galadriel and Lady Elwing who did most of that. And Lord Elrond, I'm sure. I gave her a little encouragement is all. I certainly didn't help her find the Door."
"Yet creating your portrait brought her to it," Gandalf said. "And I did nothing at all. It hardly seems fair to you."
"Nothing at all?" I looked incredulously at him. "Gandalf, how can you say that? You gave hundreds of years of your life to save Middle-earth. I don't think there's anyone who did more than you did. Surely you are entitled to some happiness, after all that?"
There was some tiny part of me that might have agreed with him, at an earlier time and different place. A part that might have risen in bitterness saying yes, it is unfair. It was I who stood by her, who encouraged her and believed in her, who loved her and did whatever he could to guide her out of the Shadow, while you only sat judgment and kept your distance. Yes, it is unfair that she should now think of you as a lover and me only as a friend, simply because of a height difference.... But that part of me was left far behind in shadow. And so the words would never form even in my mind, but only in the mind of that tiny lost part. And I had a strong feeling that if he could hear them at all, he would continue to keep his distance from her, and they both would be lost to the happiness they should have been able to enjoy, and my own actions in their behalf would have been rendered pointless.
"I know you feel responsible for me," I said watching a night-bird wheeling about the white cliffs in the moonlight. "As do Bilbo and Lord Elrond. But I feel responsible for you too, and if you don't take what gifts are given, then I'll feel once more that I can do nothing right, and I cannot please my friends and am a sorry excuse for a Prince. Would you wish that for me?"
"Ah Frodo," Gandalf laughed a little as he grazed his hand across the back of my neck, "my sweet, wise hobbit. Will you ever stop surprising me? What am I going to do when you're gone?"
"I've been thinking the same about Bilbo," I said. I regretted saying it as soon as the words were out, but they had to come sooner or later. I moved closer to him and leaned my head on his shoulder. "He's slowing down, Gandalf. I'm starting to see it now. Sometimes I think I'm neglecting him, running off exploring, and boating, and all the rest of it, leaving him behind on the terrace. Yes, it's what he wants, I know. He wants me to go out and have good times with my friends and be happy. He's told me so over and over. But I think he hasn't much time left, and I should be better company."
Gandalf held me against him as the sun sank into the softly rocking waves before us, turning them to scarlet and purple.