Bilbo never learned to love the sea as I did, yet he was not averse to living close to the shore. He would sit in a big soft chair and watch me putter along the snowy beach, like a doting grandfather enjoying the last days he has been allotted, in peace and joy and wonder.
Our house was beside a beautiful cove, overlooked by a high white cliff from which a wide waterfall descended, filling the round cove with an endless cold and ecstatic bath. Hardly anyone ever came there, except when invited, and I think the Elves had agreed that it was mine. It faced westward, so that when the sun set the waterfall took on shades of scarlet and gold and purple and flame, and the cliffs turned to a blistering pink. They were seemingly carved with strange and wonderful shapes, like sculptured snow, or floating clouds, and full of holes and tunnels that I gloried in exploring. I called it my castle. It did seem to contain many towers and turrets and spires and battlements and balconies and walkways, and one could get lost inside if not careful. There were caverns the like of which I’d only guessed at before, deep within, abounding in wondrous formations. Odd shrubs and wild flowers and ferns sprang up from outside of it here and there, some of them huge and strange, and down the face of it descended a flowering vine, the large blossoms a deep indigo in the center and lavender blue on the edges, crimson and yellow in the middle, very popular with butterflies. Around the bottom of the cliff sprang dark evergreen trees with white flowers that opened only at night and spilled forth their perfume like shy maids in love with the stars.
I had built a hobbit-sized boat, with the help of a friend who knew the craft, and would often go rowing on the cove, but after Bilbo had passed, about two and a half years after our arrival, I didn’t have so much heart for that any more. However, one morning I found myself in the mood to do so. I decided to take a direction I had not taken in a long time, toward the mouth of the cove, which was a considerable distance, but I took it nonetheless, not really knowing why I wanted to go there. It was almost as if I were being pulled there by some unseeable force; I scarcely needed to use the oars.
I could hear the usual sounds: the calling of many different birds, some high and twittering, others deep and almost bell-like, some with a fluty richness, notes dipping upward and downward, echoing hauntingly off the cliffs. And the crying of the seagulls, the peeping of sandpipers, the quacking of ducks and laughter of loons at the edge of the cove.
And of course, the endless surge and murmur of the tide.
But along with all this accustomed sound, I could hear what sounded like a human voice singing. It seemed to be coming from the sea itself, rather than the beach.
I rowed toward the voice, which was actually coming from the huge chalky rocks that formed a strange fortress below the cliff that jutted up over the waves. There I saw a girl sitting on a large flat rock that pointed out seaward, leaning back on her hands and dangling her tiny bare feet over the water, which was just close enough to bathe her toes when it rose a bit. She was very small, not even my height, and she wore a scanty gown of some filmy pale green. Her hair was honey-colored and long and wavy. Her ears I could see were sharply pointed, and I took her to be an Elf-child, but the closer I drew, I could see her face and form were not those of a child, but of a maiden just bloomed into womanhood. I hesitated to approach her at first, yet she looked my way and smiled with friendly gaiety, and I had little choice but to row my boat to the foot of her rock.
She sat up straight, pushed back a stray lock, and waved at me, saying, “Hullo, Frodo!” I briefly wondered how she knew my name, then told myself, Well, silly, you’re the only hobbit here now, of course she would know your name! I felt I had seen her before, perhaps in a dream. There was a pale shimmer about her as I drew nearer, and she tucked her pretty little bare feet under her and raised herself to her knees. I thought she was coming down to meet me, so I rowed my boat to the beach and pushed a large rock down onto the rope, then climbed up her rock to where she sat waiting with a smile.
Clearly she was expecting me.
She had very large violet eyes that tilted just a bit at the outer corners, shaded by long dark gold lashes, and a mischievous sparkle lurked in their depths. Her nose was straight and tilted at the end, her lips just full enough and of a deep coral red. Her skin was a rosy golden white, stretched over lovely high cheekbones and a delicately pointed chin. Her hands and feet were perfect, shapely and quick motioned.
It had been a while since I had seen anything lovelier. But who was she, where had she come from, and WHAT was she? A tiny Elf it would seem, but I had never seen any such that were not children. And I had a feeling she was no Elf, after all. A good way to find out would be to ask her, I supposed, but I felt not ready for that yet…not before I even knew her name, at least.
“So, Frodo,” she said, in a voice that sounded the way she looked, “we meet at last. Or do you prefer me to call you Iorhael, as the Elves do?”
“Whichever you like,” I said, taken aback at her seeming boldness. “I answer to both. What do you like to be called?”
“My name is Briselhírien-aeariel, which I suppose translates into `sea-anemone’,” she said with dancing eyes. “But a sea-anemone is a dangerous creature, at least to small beings, so you may call me Anemone if you like. That is a harmless flower in a quiet land.”
“Why would anyone name their child after a dangerous creature?” I told myself I should have thought before speaking this out loud. But she just laughed. The next question was, logically to ask what she was, but I feared I had said too much already.
“For her protection, I suppose,” she said by way of answer, with a quiet laugh. “Anyway, it has been so long since they named me, I do not remember the reason. You and I have met before, you know. Did you not swim with dolphins once?”
“Yes, I did. But that was…” …my head was fairly swimming by now… “…about three years ago, maybe more. Time passes so quickly here, I am scarcely aware of it.”
“Do you remember when you first plunged in? And you breathed in a quantity of water and nearly drowned?”
“Yes, I remember it well.” My stomach felt fluttery. There was something fearfully strange about this girl…yes, I had dreamt of her, I was sure of it, although I had not been able to see her face so clearly in the dreams. “How could you have known that? Where you stowed away on the ship?”
“No, silly,” she laughed, waving her hand at me. “You grabbed something that swam up against you and it pulled you above the waves, remember?”
“How could I forget? And that was…”
“Yes. I suppose you didn’t see me at all?”
“Not in the form you are in now,” I felt as though I might fall off the rock. “So you are…a sea-faery who can change her form?”
“Perhaps,” she looked down at her hands in mock shyness. “Then again, perhaps not. Wondering can lead down dangerous paths.”
“So why did you not introduce yourself then?” I asked her. Perhaps her talking in riddles should have annoyed me, but I found it oddly charming. “What took you so long to meet me?”
“I had a lover then,” she replied demurely. She stared right into the sun; obviously she could do that without it hurting her eyes at all, so I had all the proof I needed that she was no mortal. “But he began to grow bad-tempered and possessive, and finally I left him. There is an end to that.”
“He was a sea-being too?” I had to ask. “An immortal, like you?”
“Yes,” she sighed, “but he is long gone. And if I were to marry a mortal, I would become mortal as well.”
“I thought as much,” I said looking down at the water…until I realized that mine was the only reflection I could see, although she was right there beside me. It was unnerving. “So I could not marry you then. I would not want to kill you, after all. You have children?” She looked far too young to have children of any great age.
“Yes, many,” she said simply, “but they are scattered, and I do not see them often. You have none, then?”
I shook my head mutely.
“Did you want them?” she persisted.
“Well…yes…I think so,” I murmured. “But something came up….”
“The Ring,” she said. I nodded, glad I did not have to explain it all to her.
“Ah, that is sad for you,” she said with genuine sympathy. “But I suppose that’s how it must be.”
“Do you know this island well?” I hoped my attempt to change the subject was not too obvious, although of course it was. Subtlety was not my strong point.
“Not so well,” she said smiling. Perhaps she was as willing to drop the subject of children as I. “I do not spend much time on dry land.”
“Oh, of course,” I smiled too. Then I saw her glance at my pendant. Her eyes looked strangely luminous. There was a pale, greenish light in them.
I truly hoped she didn’t know everything about me.
“Would you like to go for a pull in my boat?” I asked her after a long moment. She scrambled to her feet eagerly.
“I thought you would never ask,” she said.
We rowed all around the cove. She insisted on taking an oar. Of course I didn’t want to let her, but she would do it, and I told myself she was stronger than I. I had long since regained my youthful vigor, and then some; yet I was still no match for an immortal sea-faery, surely. She said she had never rowed a boat before, and thought them silly useless contraptions, but she still wanted to try. Finally I let her have both oars, foolishly hoping no one would come along and see us. She pulled along with easy tireless grace, sitting in front of me so I could admire the way her cascading tawny hair caught the sunlight and took on shades of gold and copper and bronze.
“My kindred would laugh at me now,” she said over her shoulder to me, “but I care not. Is that your home up there?” She pointed to a small house that nestled against the hillside, in the shade of a huge mallorn tree.
“Yes. Do you like it?”
“I do not know. Houses seem more useless to me even than boats. But if it is yours, I may come to like it. It looks rather sweet and lofty, like you.”
I laughed: “You think me lofty?”
“In a good way,” she laughed also. “This entire cove looks like you. There is more to it than meets the eye, yet it all sings and flows together in gentle harmony.”
“So you don’t know everything about me, then.” I felt relieved.
“Of course not,” she replied. “I know only as much as you want me to know, Mister Swim-with-the-Dolphins. Nothing more.”
“Have you been watching me all this time?” I asked her, this thought just having occurred to me.
“No, not really. That is, only since I left him, and I’ve only seen you come out on the beach a few times. It was not until I heard you singing that I decided it was time to let you see me.”
“Heard me singing?”
“Yes,” she turned around the boat to face me, letting the oars rest, folding her delicate hands on her knees. Her face was radiant. “You were sitting on the sand one night with your feet in the water, watching the surf rise and fall as though it were breathing in innocent sleep. Then you looked up at the stars as though you knew them for friends. They hung as embedded gems in the blue cavern of the sky, throbbing like the very pulse of midnight, and a soft music was issuing from them, with a dark bass voice below, and high faery chimes and harp notes from above spilling like a trickle of water in a gentle spring, and a warm flute tone in between. And you sang with it, touching the pendant that hangs at your throat. I did not hear the other music until you joined in. I think you did not really know what you were singing. But it seemed you were a part of the sea and the stars and the wind and the flowers and the waterfall and the true hidden magic of being. You glowed all over like the stars themselves; you seemed one of them. I knew then that the time was right.”
I found that I had taken her hands in mine. “But I am mortal,” I said the next moment, dropping them.
“I know that, silly,” she said with a little sad smile. “This sort of thing has happened before, has it not?”
“Yes, but it always ends sadly,” I pointed out.
“Everything ends,” she said. “My life will end, someday. Yours will not. Your spirit will go on to another realm even after your body is no more. But mine? It will return to the Sea. I know not what form, if any, it will take. It is not given to me to know what comes at the end of all things. You are the true immortal.”
I took her hands once more and kissed them lingeringly. “I think eternity has arrived already,” I said without knowing at all what I meant.
“She is a dangerous creature, Frodo,” Gandalf said as I entered the house early next morning.
I started. So much for trying to slip past him.
“I know,” I said very softly, smiling with secret delight.