Bear Me Away! - Part XI
It is strange to live in a land where there are no graveyards.
Bilbo was buried in a vault within the Palace. It was a round room with six narrow pointed windows. Candles were kept burning, and fresh flowers placed there every day. Ríannor had made some beautiful pottery and set it all around; one was a huge vase painted with a dragon, which I think he would have liked very much. Many other people brought things they made: small sculptures, drawings and paintings, poems beautifully copied and illuminated on vellum, wood carvings, glass-works, carved scented candles, finely crafted lamps, embroidery, rugs, a small tapestry, a lacquered box set with gems. A retired swordsmith made a replica of Sting, which was laid on top of the stone casket--another touch he would have loved, I'm sure. Lyrien made a Bilbo doll and it was placed beneath the plate on the wall bearing his name. There were so many things, in fact, that the vault could not accommodate them all, so some were given to my keeping.
Lady Celebrían made a book of Bilbo's and my poems, binding it in soft white tooled leather with a gold silk bookmark. She had even drawn some pictures, some of him alone and others of him and me together, and she made smaller copies of them for the book. There were some tributes in it written by members of her family, and even a piece from Seragon, who described my uncle as "an illustrious exemplar of the greatness borne of littleness." Once I might have found it rather sententious, but it eventually became one of my favorite readings, and I couldn't help but wonder what he would write about me. She had left a good many blank pages so that more could be added. When I passed, the book would go to the City library, at my request.
Many of the Island's inhabitants had never attended a funeral, and I suppose they'd had to be instructed on how to conduct themselves. I would say that at least half the population turned out for it. I sat between Gandalf and Lord Elrond near the lectern at the Temple, and the Ladies played soft music and sang. Some of the priestesses danced to the music. I thought that rather strange, but found it was the way they had once honored fallen Elven warriors, and it was lovely to see. They wore plain dark gowns instead of the usual white robes embroidered with silver, and white flowers in their hair, and they held candles as they moved with solemn grace around the casket. I wondered if Bilbo could see it all, and what he would have had to say about it. Whether he would have been delighted, or would think it was all too much fol-de-rol for the likes of him.
Ah, don't confuse him with Sam, I thought. He would love it.
After the priest had commended my uncle's spirit to rest, he asked if anyone would like to come up and say anything. I shouldn't have been as surprised as I was, when the first speaker was Lyrien. She popped right up, holding a piece of paper, and stepped daintily to the lectern. Since she was too small to stand behind it, she stood in front, holding the paper in front of her. Her beautiful coppery hair was braided, instead of curled, this time, but she wore a few little white lilies in it.
"I was very fond of Mister Bilbo," she began, making sure to raise her voice so all could hear. "He was nice and funny and told me lots of stories. He always smiled at me and called me `poppet.' I liked that he was small like me even though he was grown up and old. And I liked his crinkly white hair, even on his feet. He loved Iorhael like his son and was very, very, very proud of him. He said he never expected to adopt the hobbit who saved the world. My best friend's brother, who thinks he knows everything, said Iorhael didn't save the whole world, just Middle-earth. But he did. Because it's like if one part of your body is very sick, like your heart, and the healer cures it, then he saves your whole body. Because if your heart doesn't get well, then your whole body just dies, yes? That's what my daddy said and I guess he's smarter than some boy."
This brought soft laughter as she beamed in Seragon's direction. I don't think I ever saw anyone look more proud of his offspring, not even Sam.
I would never laugh about him with Galendur, or anyone else, ever again.
"Mister Bilbo was sooo kind," she continued. "He had lots of money but he didn't keep it all for himself. He liked to give presents. Even though some people thought he was crazy and said mean things, he still liked to help people. There was a nasty creature called Gollum and Mister Bilbo didn't kill him when he had the chance, even though Gollum wanted to eat him when Mister Bilbo found his Precious. Mister Bilbo felt sorry for Gollum, you see. I want to be like Mister Bilbo and Iorhael. Because they proved that you can do very important things even if you are small. Iorhael has a friend called Sam who helped him save the world. He hopes that someday Sam will come to this Island. I'm going to pray every day that he will. That's all."
And instead of going back to sit with her parents, she came to me instead, and Elrond moved over to let her squeeze in between us. I put my arm around her and she took my handkerchief from my vest-pocket and dabbed at my face, then took my hand and held it in both hers. Gandalf arose then and took the lectern, clearing his throat.
"I couldn't do better than that if I tried for weeks, so I shan't try," he said smiling a little in our direction. "I will only say how thankful I am to have had a friend like Bilbo, and that I little dreamed the first day I appeared at his door, the entire course of history would be changed. I know now that it was Iluvatar who sent me there. I know now that being an instrument of good is never an easy thing, and often requires tremendous sacrifice. I know now that no action, however small, performed for the good of someone else, is ever wasted. We may think what we do does not matter, but I have come to find that everything we do matters, that kindness begets kindness, cruelty begets cruelty, mercy begets mercy, and even as this lovely child observed, to heal one part is to save the whole. We are where we are now because one small person showed pity to one who did not deserve it, gave an orphaned child a home, and taught another his letters and gave him employment. We are here because another certain small person treated his servant as an equal and learned and practiced what it was to be a friend, and yes, showed pity to one undeserving, following the example of his benefactor. And so I learned that in order to be great, one must first become small. One embraces the `small' things that may be scorned as weakness and foolishness by those whose eyes are too far from the ground to see the enormity of them. One stoops to fix the broken wing of a bird, and ends up soaring with eagles. One extracts a tiny shard of poisoned metal from the heart of a small helpless creature, and ultimately topples the tower of an evil being. One bestows a mail-shirt of infinite value upon another, and the course of the future is changed forever. One gives a flower to a lost woman, and she expels her enemy and finds her way into the sunlight of divinity, and learns to do the same for others. I learned to stand my tallest by taking the bent, frail, ragged form of an elderly man leaning on a stick. And those who refused to become small and tried to make themselves huge, were ultimately cast down by their own striving. And so all our greatness issues from the seeds of littleness."
Galendur came next, but he made his speech short and to the point.
"Bilbo was a most jolly old chap, and although I didn't know him so well, I would say he must have really got something right. Because of him, I learned a thing or two myself: that heroes do come in more than one size, and there's more than one way of doing things. I don't say everyone should do them all the same, because that would get a trifle dullish, and some folks can do things quiet and simple and humble, while others can do them in grand style with a lot of hoopla, and still others can be all philosophical and make lofty observations about everything in sight. And all those ways might be good ways. Bilbo was one who started out small and worked his way up to big and then small again, and he ended raising up a fellow I am proud and honored to call my friend, whom I didn't deserve but got anyway. Young Baggins saw what I could be and pointed me in that direction without asking me to give up everything I already was. So I don't waste time blathering about what I do or don't deserve, just try and take care of what I've been given in my own way. And that's all I really wanted to say, so I'll shut my head now and let somebody else take the stand."
I had to smile then, and he grinned and nodded in my direction and Lyrien squeezed my hand. And then, although I had not thought to say anything and had begged to be excused, I found myself rising and going up to the lectern, although like Lyrien I had to stand in front of it.
"I had not planned to speak," I said, pressing my hands together, "but now I simply must. When I first came to the Island almost three years ago, I knew not what to expect. When we first hove into the harbor, I had a feeling that I was really home and I had done the right thing. I'd had dreams about coming here and they were not good dreams. I kept dreaming that everyone fled from my sight until I went mad from it all. I know now that those dreams were my Enemy's way of trying to keep me away, so that I would either die or go mad or both. I suppose they rose also from my own feelings of guilt and shame and disappointment in myself. And the Enemy used those against me. So, the first day of my arrival, those feelings were cast out of me, and I knew there was a greater Power than the Enemy at work, and that it was on this Island, and that sometimes it worked in ways I did not understand, but work it did. So I no longer question it. I am so grateful for the friends I have made. I have dreaded the day my uncle Bilbo would leave me, for in my heart I knew his time would not be much longer. I dreaded the thought of being the only hobbit and the only mortal in the land. I felt as though I would not want to live long after him. But I have been so embraced here, so surrounded, so purified and accepted and instructed, that I feel I will not be beaten down any longer, and I can go on. I thank all of you so much for coming here on this day, for I know you are here for my sake. I know my uncle is on the Other Side, and I am thankful that I am mortal and shall not have to wait all through the ages to join him once more. And I know he wishes me to stay here until my time is done. So I stay for as long as my body allows me, both for the sake of the great friend I hope will join me one day, and also for the sake of the dear friends I have made and will continue to make here."
I stayed at the Palace for about six weeks. Galendur promised to see to the upkeep of my house while I was gone, and told me to stay as long as I needed.
It was good to be back among them. I realized how much I had missed the Ladies, and in their presence I became as a child again, in the best way. Lady Celebrían, the domestic one, remembered all my favorite foods, saw to it that I had clean bed linen and that my clothes were washed and pressed, and that I got a hot bath when I wanted one. We spoke little to each other of the woundings that had brought us both to the Island. Our minds and hearts spoke of it so that words were unnecessary; the bond remained, and connected us irrevocably. Of all the Ladies she was the most like my mother, in disposition, at least--in appearance only her merry blue eyes were similar. She did finally speak of her daughter, referring to what I had said at Bilbo's funeral about not having to wait all through the ages. Elves, it seems, have a far different concept of time than mortals, and a year may seem like a week to them. Ten years may seem half a year, and a hundred years as ten...or such is the impression I have gotten. So, perhaps they eventually come to terms with having to wait what seems an eternity, and the fact that someday they will be rejoined with their loved ones is enough to sustain them through the ages. Not so with all of them, of course, but Lady Celebrian was one of the exceptionally strong ones--or she had been made so here, and would endure.
Lady Elwing, the spiritual one, kept me in touch with both the natural world and the Divine, and made me aware of the connection between the two, and her counsels set me on the road I must take in order to reach the highest point in my physical and mental healing. I think she somehow kept Lady Celebrían in contact with her daughter in some way also, not by magic as we know it, but by some sort of attunement to that higher Power.
One evening she bade me come to the shore with her, telling me to bring my glass. We stood looking at the evening star for several long minutes. It seemed unusually clear and bright, its image sparkling in gentle lightning on the water. She asked for the phial and I handed it to her with a questioning look, and she walked over to the water, bent and took the stopper out of the glass. I was about to protest, but something stopped my tongue, and she dipped her fingers into the water and let a few drops into the phial and replaced the stopper, speaking a soft singing chant over it. I think I heard both the names of Ulmo and Irmo in her voice. Then she handed it back to me smiling.
"Will it glow brighter now?" I asked, thinking I scarcely needed it brighter.
"It has more strength," she said with an enigmatic twinkle. "You will see. Watch and wait, pray and look ever outward." And we went back, she taking my hand, and I heard the harbor-bell swinging softly in the evening breeze that was as a scarf of fragrance easing my stiff cheeks.
Lady Ríannor, the artistic one, taught me the restorative properties of creativity, the marriage of beauty and ideas, ways of setting heart's blood in the form of language and images to make the senses dance. Our connection was powerful as well, having dealt with the same Enemy, although I was certain she remembered nothing about him now. Her works of pottery that she had made before finding the Door were taken to an art museum in the City, a huge structure where you could wander for days and still not see everything there was to see. When we went to view them, she looked at me in puzzlement, saying, "They say I made them, but I do not remember doing so. I look at them and see a city of incompleteness and threats. Something that should have been buried but has arisen to the surface."
"Perhaps we should not look at them any longer," I said, and neither of us ever went back to that room, although we would visit the Museum often, it being a place of staggering wonders and delights, a small world of itself. The portrait of Arasirion was kept in the Palace, in one of the smaller salons. I saw her look at the painting a time or two, and a fleeting sadness darkened her face. She said she must have known him once, in a dim time, perhaps in a previous life. But in about five years or so, she would bear a son, and his name would be Arasirion also, and he would resemble the first Arasirion so strongly that it made chills run all over me when I watched him at play and in his moods. I had no belief in rebirth, myself, and the first Arasirion had resembled his mother, so why should not the second? Well! I would never know until I passed into the next world. But she would look at the portrait with joy, and say, "A vision was given unto me. Yes, now I know from whence it came." We all let her think so. Maybe it was true, at that.
And Lady Galadriel, the ruler, taught me all things a prince must know in order to be the leader of both others and of his own fate. It came as something of a surprise that she asked for my counsel on some things. At first I thought she did it just to make me feel important. Surely she needed no advice from me? What could I do that an Elf couldn't do better? I wondered.
"Do you really think you've nothing to contribute?" she asked me smiling. "Believe it or not, I truly do not know everything. And you have thought of things that no one else did. It was you who proposed the idea that Sauron was using Ríannor's memories to keep her in darkness, and you were right, so that she was ultimately able to find her way out. In truth, I feel foolish for not having thought of it myself."
And at her suggestion, I visited the home for elflings orphaned in the War, and began to counsel some of them; for, since I had been orphaned at an early age myself, the Lady thought I might be able to reach them. I was afraid, at first, that the children would find it ridiculous to be counseled by a person no taller than they and shorter than most, and with hairy feet, at that, and once more I considered getting some boots. The Queen said it would not be necessary, however. I was a Prince and my image was in the town square next to the White Tree; they would have plenty of respect for me, she said.
And most did take to me quickly. I counseled a brother and sister together, who did not want to be separated even for an hour, and it went so well that I got the idea to counsel groups of children at a time. And so I went to the Home once or twice a week and held these group-meetings, and eventually began receiving reports of better appetites, fewer bad dreams, better school-work. I also conceived the idea of having the names of their parents carved on a wall as a memorial in the town-square. I suggested this to the Queen, and she held a meeting concerning the matter, and it was done. It took half a year, but people threw themselves whole-heartedly into the project, and three different stone-cutters were engaged, and the stone was of a black marble with a white veining. An eagle was carved into the middle of the wall, and a torch was kept burning atop. During the unveiling ceremony, the orphans stood gazing at the wall, their faces glowing as they each searched for the names of their parents. And I saw some of them look at me, grinning, as they pointed out one set of names, and I came and looked and saw they belonged to my own parents.
So my days were filled with such activity, that I had not much time to mourn, and I felt I was doing things that would have made Bilbo proud of me. But nights were another matter....