Let Them Be Little - a short story
Let them be little.
That was the wisest thing anyone has ever told me.
I sit now on a smooth marble bench in a glade of trees, watching as a shower of golden-red leaves fall around me, moved into fluttering clouds by a soft breeze scented with the ocean far beyond. Even here, the trees must grow anew, but such changes never come as quickly as they did before. Time has a way of moving so slowly here that nobody cares to keep track of it. They live to the fullest from dawn to dusk, and not a night passes without the merry sounds of laughter and music.
Joy, peace, and comfort. That was what Lord Cirdan said I would find here when he untied the moorings to the ship that bore me across the western sea. I have seen joy, and peace, and comfort. Seen. . . .but I have not gained. I don't think I will ever be truly happy, not until I am in the arms of my husband again.
My physical pain is gone. The poison that had set my blood aflame for so long had finally been neutralized, and the old wounds had been healed, long ago. To others' eyes, I should have been content. I am not. I think they understand, but it is hard to ignore the looks of pity. I do not want to be pitied.
A deer walks into the glade, a beautiful amber-colored doe. She looks at me calmly, blinking her large black eyes before turning and trotting away. I have long gotten used to how docile the animals are. Many of the children I have met here own pet squirrels or foxes, animals I would have never allowed my own children to keep. They are beautiful, with glossy coats of a range of earth colors, and wide bright eyes that sparkle with uncanny wisdom. I am sure that they can understand the words the children speak to them, and if they could, they would converse with their little masters and mistresses.
When I first came to live here, in this peaceful mountain settlement, I was offered a young fox cub as a pet. It had a coat the color of autumn leaves, brilliant amber eyes, and a muzzle, tail, and paws splashed with the purest white. At first, I had not wanted to keep it, but as the little creature gazed at me, I could not help but fall in love. It grew into a lovely vixen, and continues to be my closest companion. I look down at it now, curled up at my side, its muzzle resting on my leg, and remember a time, long ago, when my own daughter had come home with an orphan fox cub.
Arwen, my dear beloved Arwen, how I miss you. The memory of your youthful beauty and wonderful smile has carried me through the lonely nights. Yes, my love, even in Valinor I have felt alone. I often wondered if I chose the right path. Could I, somehow, have tried just a little bit harder to find the strength to stay? I know you needed me. The night you told me Faye had departed in search of the creature had broken my heart. How have you survived these years? I often sought word of new arrivals to the Halls of Mandos, and I know through what I have been told that you still walk in Arda. I pray you have more strength than I did.
I guess what I have been trying to convince myself is that I did not have the strength to stay in Imladris. I had to come here to save my soul, which would have surely perished had I remained in Arda. The wounds inflicted upon me by the creature were too deep. I wish I could explain my feelings to you now, Arwen. I long to see your face. I await the day those white sails appear on the horizon, drawing closer the ship that bears you to me. Although Faye left you, I know she will keep her vow to me. She will come back to you when her task is complete, and she will guide you here. Then, and only then, I will be truly healed.
Another soft breeze shakes the leaves, drawing the fox that rests beside me from its sleep. The fox cub Arwen had brought home had looked similar, though not near as healthy. I remember that day well. I had been sitting on the balcony overlooking the Valley, resting and enjoying Faye's quiet company. I can still see her face, serene as she gazed out with me, her golden eyes sparkling dimly. Then Arwen had entered, the cub in her arms. The both of us had been startled by her arrival. At first, I had thought the bundle she held was empty, but then she showed me the tiny animal.
"Can I keep him, Ammë?" she had asked, her eyes wide.
Like my little companion now, the fox cub's fur had been delicately colored. However, one look at its bony body and clouded eyes had shown me just how ill it was. I knew immediately it would have been dangerous to keep it. It was impossible to tell just what was causing it to fall so ill.
"Arwen, look at it," Faye had said, her eyes and expression staying serene. "The poor thing is ill. It is unlikely it will survive."
Arwen's eyes had filled with tears, and at first I had tried to prevent Faye from continuing to speak. I didn't want her to make Arwen too upset. However, that situation turned out to be the first real example of just how much Faye really knew about handling children.
"I'll make this promise," she had said, sitting up and gently taking the fox cub from Arwen's arms. "Later, I'll take you out into the meadow, and we can find a new pet for you." She had kissed Arwen's forehead, then beckoned her off. "Go on, now."
"What will you do with him?" Arwen had asked, her eyes wide.
"He'll soon be at peace," Faye had replied, and I had winced. I wasn't sure how Arwen would take it.
However, I had been pleasantly surprised. With a dejected nod, Arwen had turned and left. I had watched her go, then turned to ask Faye just what she was planning to do with the cub, when I heard a soft popping sound. Faye was just removing her hand from the back of the cub's neck.
"My youngest son once did this to me," she had said, looking up at me. "He brought home a jaguar cub. My husband took it back to the mother while I led him into the jungle and found something less dangerous for him to care for."
"And what did you end up choosing?" I had asked.
"A python," Faye had replied with a smile.
Another breeze rustles the leaves, blowing a small pile onto my bare feet. In the time I have been here, I have had all the time I needed to reflect upon the events in my life. Back then, I had been off-put by how much my daughter adored Faye. Long ago, I had often given in to tempers over Faye's dominance in Arwen's life. I had accused her of trying to steal my only daughter from me. Now, though, I have realized that Faye's teachings had been the primary factor that transformed Arwen from the energetic Elfling to the beautiful woman that lives in my memories. There isn't a night when I don't bless her for all she did for me and my family.
The fox coos softly and nuzzles its sharp muzzle against my leg. So lost in reverie, I almost do not notice. The rich scent of burning cedar starts to permeate the breeze. Someone nearby is starting to prepare for the evening meal. There is to be a celebration of sorts tonight, a festival I have no desire to attend, though I have been invited numerous times. I don't think I'll ever be content to enjoy such merriment, not until my family comes across the sea. My little companion gently nips my finger, and I look down. It looks up at me, its jewel-like eyes sparkling in the afternoon sun, and wrinkles its nose. It also smells the cedar.
Suddenly, the quiet air echoes with high, joyful laughter. I can feel a smile forming on my face. That glorious sound is the only thing that has sparked the slightest feeling of joy in my weary heart in all my years here. Slowly, I stand, my little companion following me as I move towards the source of the laughter. The glade in which I had been sitting lay near a shallow river, and it is at its banks I see the source. Standing half-concealed in the sparse shade of the trees, I watch the children play.
Let them be little.
The words echo in my mind again, so clear it was as if they had just been whispered in my ear. The children, two girls and a boy, are playing happily in the waters. Their clothing is already wet and dirty, but they seem not to notice. New footsteps sound in the trees on the far side of the bank. The children do not hear until it is too late. A she-Elf appears with fury evident on her face. The children turn, shocked, and I see their faces redden with guilt.
I am close enough to hear every word the mother says as she scolds her children. They had been dressed for the festival, and had been commanded to keep their clothes clean. I cannot help but remember those tiny words of wisdom as I watch. How much had it taught me about raising children? Tears are forming in my eyes. My hands tremble as the memories arise again, memories of the faces of the people I left behind.
The mother Elf-maiden sees me. Her voice startles me, and I look down at her. She appears surprised, and the children look relieved.
"Lady Celebrían, is something wrong?" she asks. "You're crying."
I shake my head, wiping away the tears. The children are still staring at me, and I muster a small smile. They look hopefully back, as if silently begging me to release them from trouble.
"Let them be little," I say softly, looking around at their mother.
"Pardon?" the mother asks, looking confused.
"Let them be little," I repeat. "I was told that a long time ago. They remain to this day the wisest words I have ever heard."
I turn to the children, offering my hand to the youngest girl. She accepts, smiling up at me.
"I remember a midsummer festival when my daughter was this age," I say dreamily. "Elrond and I were expecting important guests, and I had told Arwen under no circumstances is she to dirty her dinner gown." I continue telling my story, speaking to the listening ears of the mother and her children. As I speak, the memory returns again.
The weeks of effort I had spent to oversee the preparation of Imladris for the festival were drawing to a close, and I had been very irritated for most of the afternoon, my nerves stressed. Perhaps I had spoken too harshly to Arwen when I had warned her to stay clean, but at the time she had been the least of my concerns.
I was never to know quite how the situation I discovered a quarter hour before the beginning of the festival occurred, but when I discovered Arwen, Elladan, and Elrohir covered from head to toe in mud, I lost control of my good judgment. My shouts of fury had been heard throughout the Valley. My sons, older and wiser, had hung their heads and cowered, but poor Arwen had been reduced to frightened sobs. I have no doubt now that it had been Arwen crying that had summoned Faye. She had appeared quite suddenly, sliding to a halt from what had been a full run.
"What happened?" she had said breathlessly, looking around wildly. "What. . ." She had noticed the state of the children, and had smiled. "Well, are there three Elves under all that?"
"Do not take pity in them!!" I had screamed, turning upon Faye. "Do you realize the festival will start at any moment?"
Faye had cast me a look that had silenced my anger. It had been a look of love, of pity, and of understanding. Still smiling, she had set a hand on my shoulder. Then, her golden gaze fixed on mine, she had spoken those words.
"Let them be little."
I had not understood. I had stared at her, thinking her mad, but she had simply turned to gaze at the children.
"I once had children," she had said. "Young, carefree, and willing to come to me when life became to difficult for them to bear. But time took them away from me. I had thought that the best thing for them was to learn to follow in the footsteps of their father, but only afterwards did I see my mistake. Children will grow up no matter what you do, and it is not fair to force them to grow up faster."
By then, I had begun to realize what Faye was trying to tell me, and I had begun to force myself to calm down. Patiently, I had listened to the rest of her speech.
"They only did what was appropriate for children their age," Faye had continued, gesturing to the children. "For now, Milady, let them be little. Let them be children. They'll grow up soon enough, and once they do, you will regret every moment you did not allow them to live their younger years properly."
The wisest words ever spoken to me. I sigh, gazing at the mother and her children, waiting for their reaction. The mother is stunned, staring in shock. The children are shifting nervously in their places. They can sense the chance that they will escape punishment drawing near. Several moments of silence pass, then the mother smiles.
"You are right, Lady Celebrían," she says, wiping tears from her eyes. "My children are too young for me to expect them to act like perfect adults." She turns to them, who are now smiling very widely. "Go on and get yourselves cleaned up. You can continue your play tomorrow, but for now, we must prepare for the festival."
Laughing excitedly, the children depart. Soon, only my little companion remains with me and the mother she-Elf. She turns back to me, taking my hand.
"Are you coming to the festival?" she asks.
"I do not think so," I reply, shaking my head.
"Why not?" The mother smiles at me, her eyes sparkling much like her children's had done. "I'm sure it will be just like the festivals on Arda, and this time you will have nothing to concern yourself with. Just come and enjoy yourself."
I gaze at the she-Elf, worried. My heart still pains for the company of my family. I still believe I will never be happy without them. However, I look into the mother's eyes now, and I cannot bring myself to refuse.
"Very well," I say softly. "As long as you and your children accompany me."
"Of course," she replies.
As darkness settles over this land, music fills the air, much like it had done at home. My little companion trots along ahead, the mother she-Elf by my side. Perhaps time will show her to be my first true friend gained here. For now, for the first time, I feel at ease. As we step out of the forest and onto the festival grounds, and I see the smiling faces around me, I smile as well. I see now I have made a mistake by avoiding these gatherings. The company of other Elves has been something I have needed.
My Arwen, my family, I miss you all. I will continue to dream every night of the day when we will see each other again. But now I can admit that I am happy, genuinely happy. No longer will past memories bring tears to my eyes. They will only bring smiles, and laughter.
Let them be little.
Thank you, Faye, for everything you taught me. Many years later, your lesson has been passed on. I pray these years have proved kind to you, and that you fulfill your oath to bring Arwen to me. The healing will come.
At last, I am at peace.