Finally I could go to the Temple. I could have gone before, of course, as much as I liked, but I wished to go in on my own feet, not be carried in like a tiny tot.
But first I needed a haircut. Lady Celebrian did the honors. We sat on the terrace, a large towel draped over my shoulders as she clipped away. Bilbo sat on a bench a way apart, smoking his pipe and watching with interest. There was a child with us–Tilwen’s little niece, Lyrien. I say “little” although she would have been almost at eye-level with me had I been standing. She was the first Elf-child I had seen up close, save for an infant or two I had observed on ship. I’m sure her mother or aunt must have explained to her about hobbits, but I don’t think it all had sunk in. Evidently no one had taught her it was rude to stare, but I didn’t really mind such a pair of large lovely eyes looking at me so intently. She was looking mainly at my eyes, anyway.
“Why is your hair squiggly?” she asked. I smiled as charmingly as I could.
“All hobbits have squiggly hair,” I said.
“Why?” she persisted.
“Because…hobbits live in holes in the ground, which have round doors and round windows, round hallways, round fireplaces, round everything. So–we end up with round hair.”
I saw Bilbo double over on the bench, his shoulders shaking, and I felt rather pleased with myself. Lyrien looked at me with a delicious little half-smile, sunlight dancing in her eyes.
“Why is your hair two colors?” she put to me next. My eyebrows went upwards.
“Brown and silver. Look.” She picked up a fallen curl and showed me. I examined it closely. I had thought the grey was gone from my hair–it looked so indoors, but out in the sunlight I could see there were a few strands remaining yet. “Why is it two colors?”
“Well, you see…” There is something in the masculine mind that seems completely averse to giving straight answers to the questions of children, and I regret to admit I was no different in that respect. I lowered my voice to a whisper: “When I was a baby, I swallowed a silver piece, and it made silver streaks come out in my hair.”
The Lady laughed aloud. “Let’s put ideas into the little one’s head, shall we?” she said. I lowered my eyes sheepishly. “Don’t listen to him, Lyrien.”
The child giggled. “Your grandpa must have eaten a whole bag of silver pieces,” she said looking wisely at Bilbo.
“He’s not my grandpa,” I laughed also. “He’s my uncle–well, really he’s my cousin, but I call him my uncle.”
“Why?” she said. “If I had a cousin, I wouldn’t call him my uncle.”
“Because he likes it,” I said. “He had no nephew and he wanted one, so he made me his nephew.”
“Why?” the sweet one said. “Because you saved the world?”
“No,” I laughed and the Lady nearly nicked my ear for giggling. “I was just a boy then. We had our birthdays on the same day, so he made me his nephew. I can’t imagine why else he would, such a scamp as I was.”
“I’ll have an uncle soon,” she said. “My auntie Tilwen is going to be married. So her husband will be my uncle.”
“Yes, I know,” I said. “Do you like him?”
“Yes,” she replied promptly. “He brings me sweets sometimes. And once I saw him ride his horse backwards. He calls me Squinkles.”
“Squinkles?” I couldn’t help but laugh. “Why does he call you that?”
“I don’t know,” she giggled. “Do girl-hobbits have hair on their feet too?”
“They do indeed,” I said.
“Why?” she said. I could hardly help but think, she out-hobbited hobbit-children for asking questions.
“Because if only the lads had foot-hair, the lasses would get jealous,” I said, then wondered if I were going to get myself into hot water for that one. But Lyrien didn’t seem to have heard my response. She had stooped to pick up another fallen lock.
“This one is so pretty,” she said. “It has lots of silver in it. May I have it?”
“Yes, of course.”
“May I have another for my friend?”
“You may have it all if you like,” I said.
With a squeal of delight she began gathering up all the clippings. Tilwen and her sister, Niniel, came forward from the kitchen. Lyrien ran to them shouting, “Look, look, look, look! He gave me all his hair!” Her mother laughed.
“I hope this little one hasn’t been pestering you to death with questions,” she said to me. “Come, Lyrien, we must go.”
“I want to say one thing to him first,” the child pleaded. “Just one?”
“All right, but quickly,” Niniel said. “Papa is waiting for us at the gate. We must go home and get ready for Temple.”
Lyrien came to me, bent and whispered in my ear: “Thank you for saving the world!” then kissed my cheek noisily. Before I could respond, she skipped away, clutching my fallen curls in both hands.
One thing I had intended to do, although I knew Bilbo would never let me hear the end of it, was have a pair of shoes made for going to the Temple. Somehow I felt it would be unseemly to walk into the sacred building barefoot. I tried to explain this to him, and predictably, he had quite a whoop over it. Shoes! I’d be wanting a hat next, he said. He could see it all now: me swaggering into the Temple in fine leather boots with polished heels, and a hat with a great sweeping plume on it, big as you please. A fine sight for sore eyes I’d be. But after my encounter with Galendur, I had decided against the shoes.
As Bilbo and I dressed up, I felt both excited and apprehensive about getting out for the first time to see more of the Island. Bilbo took his time deciding what to wear. In his younger days he had been quite the clothes-horse, and although he no longer was so particular about what he wore, today he was in a flurry about it. I helped him choose a pair of ivory-colored breeches, a vest of a matching color with thread of gold and scarlet embroidered onto it, a red cravat, and an ivory-colored jacket over the whole. My outfit was light-grey with blue and silver woven into the vest, and a dark-blue cravat. As we inspected ourselves at the full-length mirror, we looked quite handsome, if I do say so. Hairy feet and all.
“We’ll give that preposterous prancing pretty-boy something to stare at, so we will,” Bilbo said, referring to Galendur. I laughed, at the same time wondering about Ríannor. I had meant to ask her to come to the Temple with us, but I hadn’t seen her about in several days. I remembered asking the Lady Elwing about her a couple of days ago, why it was, she thought, Ríannor was resisting her treatment.
“It’s because she has not yet found the Door,” she said as we sat by the fountain. She was cutting up roots and herbs for the day’s dinner, and I was helping. She did most of the cooking in the household, because she liked to cook and the others did not. I was a pretty fair cook, myself, but it was hard for me to help in the kitchen because it wasn’t hobbit-sized. I did my part, however.
“The Door?” I said. Sometimes it was hard for me to keep my mind on what I was doing when she was there, and I had to be careful not to cut myself. I had done so once already. Quite deeply, and it had to be stitched. Ouch.
“Yes,” she looked seriously at me. She usually wore earthy tones of brown or green or gold, and in that she differed from her granddaughter, who favored blue and dark red and silver-grey. Sometimes the colors she wore made a gold-copper light in her dark eyes. “The Door that leads into the Light. Each must find it, and there is no one way to do so. It is like solving a puzzle, I suppose. One tries and keeps trying, then suddenly, the answer appears when one least expects it, and then all is light. That is the gateway into Eternity.”
“How can we help her to find it?” I asked.
“Only by keeping at her side,” she said. “We cannot find it for her. We can give her lights, but the Door is hidden–and it appears when we least expect it. Sometimes when you write poetry, do you ever find you cannot think of the right idea, the exact phrasing, however hard you try, and you put it aside for a while, then one day when you are not looking for it, it comes to you, and you know it is exactly right? Finding the Door is somewhat like that.”
“How long do you think it will take her?” I asked. I was worried, to be truthful. What if she never found it?
“No one can say,” she said, not surprisingly. “But I think it will not be so long.”
That was when I decided to go to the Temple. I would go and offer a prayer that Ríannor would somehow find the Door and find it soon. I could pray here at the house, of course. There was a small room on the second floor made especially for that purpose, and I visited it frequently. It was tiny and full of candles, and one window sharply pointed at the top, full of crystal panes that threw colored lights on the walls and ceiling. But I thought it might be more effectual if I went into the Temple to do so, even though I still felt shy of getting out in public.
Still, I was getting rather sick of the confinement, so I found my spirits rising as we gathered into an open carriage. Ríannor was not among us, nor was the Lady Galadriel.
Gandalf drove, Bilbo and I sitting right behind him. It was a fine morning, all silver and gold in the trees. We drove past splendid houses, made mostly of white or pale-gold or a very light pink stone, shingled in what appeared to be silver or gold. Flowers grew everywhere in immaculately cultivated gardens. There were bell-towers, many of them, with onion-shaped golden domes atop, and crystal windows, and beautiful mosaic patterns laid into the walls in soft light colors. I saw fountains, dozens of them, paved in white or colored marble, and I wondered where the water came from and where it went. And waterfalls, coming from unexpected sources. There were statues, representing the Valar, I was sure. I saw poles with lamp-globes atop, pure white in cages of intricate gold. And more gardens. And walkways paved in glossy squares. There were many people about, some walking, others riding. Couples strolled arm in arm, children darted about, some of them playing in the street, some leaning into the fountains to catch the water and splashing each other. They shouted and pointed as we rode past.
The City was completely and irrevocably alive. Bilbo looked thoroughly enchanted.
Then I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Lady Elwing.
“We’ll soon come to the Tree,” she whispered. She was dressed in gold. I gave an excited wriggle.
We came to a garden that was even more resplendent than the others, and yes, I could see it already–the Tree, much bigger and taller than the one in Minas Tirith, all in glimmering fragrant bloom, right in the midst. If only Sam could see all this….
And straight ahead was the Temple. I had not seen it, of course, since the day of my arrival, and I had not seen much of it then, the state I was in–could not remember seeing it at all. It was of rose-white stone that looked almost transparent but was not so, a huge golden dome atop flanked by two smaller pointed ones, and many towers and buttresses, peaked windows at the front and sides. Doves and pigeons abounded. And of course there was a fountain out front, a very wide one with small bridges over it. The largest fountain, in the middle, was studded with precious stones and mosaic-work in onyx and nacre and enamel, with a large globe atop, made of some alabaster stone like a giant pearl. Small flowering shrubs and benches surrounded it. I could hear music all around, some of it from the bells, and some of it human voices, I could not tell from where. The voices were not in exact harmony with the bells, it was as there were several different songs being sung all at once and yet they did not clash; it had a strange and haunting, other-worldly effect, as two or three different realms that were of themselves yet in perfect accord with one another.
And I could swear that some of the music was coming from the waters of the fountain.
And the Temple itself! I can hardly begin to describe its glories. The stone was carved in the most intricate lacy patterns, set with moonstone and black and white and cream-colored onyx and lapis, bricks of gold laid all around the doorways and windows. The door was of polished ebony inlaid with more gold and gems. The windows were of a translucent creamy glass etched in swirls and floral designs, paned in beaten gold. I felt tiny indeed, and very humble, and at the same time foolish to think I would be so conspicuous in the light of all this glory.
I looked at Bilbo to see how he was taking all this in, and his reaction was as I thought it would be. Here he had thought he had seen all the wonders of the world. I was overwhelmed to think I was so privileged in being allowed to come here at all, flawed and tiny mortal as I was, the first ever as was permitted entry into this realm.
I think maybe I had found the Door myself.
I was not prepared for the cheering that broke out in the crowd as Bilbo and I were assisted down from the carriage by Gandalf. A small bevy of maidens–priestesses as I could see by the snow-white robes embroidered in silver that they all wore–came bearing bunches of lilies and roses. Bilbo, Gandalf and I were each given a bunch. The singing grew louder and the bells chimed ecstatically as we were ushered inside.
I don’t know which was more glorious, the interior or the exterior. The ceiling was surely at least a hundred feet high, vaulted and carved, and very tall slender pillars stood about inlaid with more mosaics of colored stone and jewels, and the glass in the windows made me dizzy to think how much work had gone into arranging the bits into such complicated and symmetrical patterns. And there were candle-holders all around, dozens of them, and little trees growing in front of the windows, all in flower. More ebony doors led into the sanctuary, which was set with polished wooden benches, and in the midst was a high lectern. And surely I had never seen so many candles in one place. How did they keep them all lighted?
The service began with a hymn sung by a choir that I could not see until I looked up and saw many Elves in balconies lining the walls, holding candles and singing, and bells and harps and flutes softly played with their music, and a sweet scent floated up from the middle of the room. Then a tall Elf stood at the lectern and said that if there were any who wanted to request a prayer they might come forward. Several came, speaking too softly for me to hear, and then after a slight hesitation, I rose and went to stand in line. When my time finally came the priest looked very pleased to see me, and smiled as I gave my request. I was trembling a little when I sat down again, but I felt wonderful. A couple of women brought babies and asked for blessings on them. A couple who were soon to be married came and asked that their union be consecrated.
And I thought of the poem I had been asked to compose, and knew I could never write it now. No false notes were possible here.
I don’t know how long the service lasted; an hour, maybe two. I could have sat there all day. I felt a part of all music and all brilliance and all truth and worlds and knowing, and that everything I had suffered was so far behind me, I would never be able to see it however much I looked back.
When I came back home again, I looked around for Ríannor but still did not see her about. I saw that the door of her bedroom was cracked, peered in, but did not see her. So I silently padded in and left the flowers I had been given on her pillow, then left. Later, after dinner, I went upstairs again, on a thought, and approached the door of her workroom. It was partially open, which surprised me, and a light burned within. As if she had been expecting me, she emerged and said, “Come in, Iorhael.”
I entered, and saw that she had an easel set up, and what looked like an enormous plate propped on it. On the plate a beautiful face was painted. I took it to be her own at first, but on closer inspection I could see the features had a more masculine cast. To one side I could see there were gold letters very lightly painted: ARASIRION.
She looked at me in a helpless darkness, tears standing in her eyes. Then she spoke in a voice that seemed to come from a million miles behind me, yet I heard them as though they were inside my own head: “I do not know who he is. He came to me as from a wet window atop a great stair. Yet I know him not.”
I felt chills run all over me even as my throat tightened. If she had forgotten her son, how could she have painted his portrait? And although it seemed the gift of forgetting was finally taking effect, she was still lost. She had not found the Door. Yet, perhaps she now had the key?
I noticed that some of the pottery she had shown me was missing.
Then she held up her left arm to me, saying, “Do you see this?” She pushed back her sleeve, showing me the number on her wrist. I could not tell if the mark was made in ink or whether it was a brand of some sort. I was a little afraid to touch it.
“You cannot remove it, can you,” she said. It wasn’t even a question. I shook my head.
“Perhaps it can be taken off somehow,” I offered. “I could ask Lord Elrond…”
“He is gone, gone, and I know not who he is,” she said, then I realized she was referring to the portrait of her son before her. I felt a little sick. I wanted to go, but could not just leave her sitting there.
Then I heard my own voice saying, “Lady Ríannor…resist him.” She looked up at me and a couple of tears escaped her eyes. “Resist him. Do not let him hold you back. You must never let him have you.”
I kissed the mark on her wrist, then laid my hand over it. “Do not let him keep you in the shadow,” I said. She was trembling and so was I. And finally she laid her hand over mine.
“There is no light in the Void,” she whispered.