The wedding was in two weeks, and I still had not written a word. Well, actually, I had, but the words had a way of not staying on the paper.
“What rhymes with `orbs’?” I asked Bilbo, who was studying a map. I still didn’t know what it was with my uncle and maps. Surely he wasn’t planning on going anywhere? “Besides `absorbs’?”
“What say?” He looked up blankly.
“Never mind, Uncle,” I said gently. “I don’t think I should use the word `orbs’ in this poem anyway. To my way of thinking, it means…erm…well, balls.”
“Does it now?” Bilbo nearly dropped his pipe. “Well–sticklebats! Never thought of that before.”
“So I hardly think it would be seemly to use it in a poem read by a young lady in the Temple,” I grinned. Bilbo chuckled.
“No, I suppose not,” he agreed. “Now on the wedding night, with the two of them alone, would be a whole different matter. Hmph–I’ll never hear a poem with `orbs’ in it the same way again!”
“Now Uncle,” I laughed aloud and pointed a finger playfully at him, then sobered. “Actually I don’t want to say ‘eyes’ either. It just doesn’t sound…warlike. What about `his flashing steely gaze’?”
“Sounds good to me,” he said nodding.
“`His flashing steely gaze/Held all in deep amaze’–how’s that?”
“Perfect. You can rhyme a lot of things with `gaze’ now. Haze, raze, graze, craze, slays, daze, blaze…forays…praise…trays….”
“I still need to work in `beleaguered.’ She said I didn’t have to include all her favorite words, but that one was at the top of the list, and I think she’d want it in there somewhere. But I can think of nothing that rhymes with it.”
“`Disfigured,'” Bilbo offered.
“That doesn’t rhyme,” I fretted.
“Comes close. Let’s see now…`E’en while sore beleaguered/By monsters full disfigured’…Well, you could probably do much better than that, but the rhyme works, I should think.”
“`Lugubrious’–whatever does that mean? I don’t think I’d better even try to use it.”
“Blessed if I know. That’s the thing with lasses–they know too many words.”
I scratched around for a while. I had written many poems in the past month, some excellent, some dreadful, most of them falling somewhere in between the two extremes. I wrote of things I knew, of friendship, dreams, loss, war, love, horror, beauty, striving, hope, royalty, fear, courage, illness, atonement, sacrifice, renewal, mercy, peace. I wrote letters to Sam and read them softly aloud when Bilbo was asleep, holding my glass close to my lips, and I swear I could feel it grow warm and glow in my hand, with a faint pale golden light.
But! I. Could. Not. Write. This. Ode. I wrote page after page, line after line, metaphor after metaphor, strophe after strophe. Finally I stood up, took what I had been scrawling for nearly two hours, and ripped it in two, then four, then into dozens of tiny pieces. Bilbo, who had dozed off, came to with a start.
“What the?” He looked at me in puzzlement.
“This is without a doubt the biggest piece of twaddle that was ever committed to paper,” I exclaimed, dramatically flinging the butchered tribute into the air. “I can’t write this! What do I know about being in a battle anyway? I simply cannot allow this, this monstrosity to be read in the Temple–I’ll positively throw up! I’ll write something else. It won’t be what she had in mind exactly, but–”
Just then we jumped as a door slammed. I heard Tilwen’s voice, and while I could not make out the words, I could tell she was plenty upset. Bilbo looked at me questioningly, and I sprang up, absently brushing the flakes of ode off my clothing, then went out to the terrace and peered in the direction of the kitchen. Then I saw her coming in my direction. She was in tears.
“Iorhael–the wedding is OFF!” she cried. “Oh–oh–how COULD he!” She burst out afresh. I took her hand and led her to the table and helped her to a seat. Lady Celebrian hovered nearby, smoothing down Tilwen’s hair and trying to calm her.
“What happened?” I said. Bilbo hobbled out also, saying, “Well, I never!”
“I’m NOT going to marry that–that!” Tilwen wailed. I could not help but notice she wore an exceptionally pretty blue dress that looked new. “I–I–I’ll die a maid first! Iorhael, I’m s-sorry, I know you worked long and hard on the p-p-poem, but…it won’t be, it won’t be…ohhh!!”
“What is it, dear?” Lady Celebrian said, sitting down beside her and putting an arm across her shoulders. Tilwen raised her head and looked up at me. “Here, just take a few deep breaths and calm yourself a little. Have you and Galendur quarreled? These things happen, you know. I’m sure we can work it out. The main thing is to–”
“It wasn’t a quarrel exactly,” Tilwen sniffled. “I…I, well, you see, I and Mother and Niniel were working on my new clothes, and the things they were going to wear to the wedding? And, and I tried on this one I’m wearing, and I liked it so much I didn’t want to take it off again? Well, I went to my best friend Vivien’s to show it to her, and on my way back, well, I thought maybe I’ll just go by Galendur’s while I’m at it–yes, I know I was supposed to save it till after the wedding, but I just couldn’t resist. So I took the long way. No, I really wasn’t going in, I was just going to ride by on the chance that he might be looking out. But, but I heard his voice out in his garden with some of his friends and so I slipped up around the drive and hid myself in some bushes, thinking to surprise him. And I heard–I heard!”
“Heard what, dear?” Lady Celebrian felt about her person for a handkerchief. I produced one from my vest-pocket.
Tilwen looked tragically at me. “He was talking about YOU!” she burst out. “He was saying the–the most awful things–I won’t repeat them, but how COULD he! He was just going on and, and laughing, and saying how we–you and I–had a, a thing going on–did you ever hear anything so ridiculous?–and how he was going to come after you, and, and–oh, you’d better hide, there’s no telling what….”
“How could he, indeed!” Lady Celebrian flushed hotly. “And he certainly won’t get past our gate. The idea!”
“And then he started in on ME,” Tilwen cried. “He said I–I was a dear little goose of a thing, and, and, well, I won’t say what else, it wasn’t quite decent, and…well, anyway, I just popped out and marched right up to him and told him the wedding was off, I’d rather marry an orc, and I told him some other things, and he came toward me, and tripped and fell flat on his face, and made a perfect spectacle of himself…but NOW what am I going to do?”
“The nerve of that…creature,” I fumed. “You are well rid of him, I should say, Lady Tilwen. You can do much better.”
“I never liked him from the get-go, the big oaf,” Bilbo declared. “Even the peacock didn’t like him. Yes, you can do better, that’s what I say.”
“He–he came later to my house,” Tilwen continued, “and apologized, telling me he’d had too much to drink and didn’t mean anything he said. He said something about a, a drinking game, that his chums put him up to, and he said, Iorhael, that he was just jealous of you because you destroyed the Ring and he didn’t, and because you were my friend, and he, he didn’t mean it about how he was coming after you, and he’d come beg your pardon, and he said he loved me, and…but, well, he just isn’t what I thought he was, and I…I…” She blew her nose rather loudly.
“If he blames his friends for getting him drunk, says indecent things about you to them, and doesn’t like for you to have friends,” I said, “then he isn’t even half good enough for you, and you are right to call off the wedding. I’m so sorry this happened. But you have all the time in the world to find someone more worthy of you.”
I knew that didn’t make her feel one bit better, and I probably sounded unbearably pompous, and my worse half was blaming myself for her unhappiness. But, I had to say it.
“Let me take you home,” Lady Celebrian said as Tilwen laid her head down on her arms, sobbing. “You needn’t work today, we can manage. Let’s get you home and you can rest a bit, and…”
After they had gone, I plopped down in her chair with a sigh. Bilbo looked at me thoughtfully.
“Looks like you’re off the hook now, my lad,” he said. “Poor lass. She’ll get over him, I’m sure. But…it’s a shame.”
Three days later, Tilwen came back to the house. But no one could bring a smile to her face. Sometimes she cried as she worked, and the Lady had to end up sending her home. Once she asked me if I had ever known the taste of despair. Galendur came over once, unknown to me at the time, and Lord Elrond and Gandalf sent him packing, or so I heard.
And then I got an idea. A crazy idea, but I got it, and it stuck.
Galendur’s house was not very large, but it was elegant as all houses were here. He lived there with his father, Lord Elrond explained to me, who was also a war hero. His mother had been a mortal woman, and had died long ago. He had a couple of older brothers, but they lived elsewhere. As the youngest, he was perhaps a bit spoiled, but he really was a hero, Elrond assured me, despite my intial impression.
“Do you want me to go in with you?” he asked as we stopped at the gate and he took me down from his horse.
“No, I think not,” I said. “It would be better if I went alone, I’m sure. I’m not afraid of him.”
“Very well then,” Lord Elrond said smiling. “I’ll go sit over there in the park, just in case. Galendur has his rough edges, but I think there’s no real harm in him. But call me if you need me. I’ll hear you.”
I heard Galendur’s voice around the back, so I headed that way instead of the front door. He sounded as though he were talking to a horse; then I heard a soft whinny. There was a short flight of steps leading up to the side door, and I started up them on a run, and met him coming right out from the stable in back. It was then that I stepped on a broken place…and fell right over backwards.
“Oh, bugger!” I heard him say, then he rushed down the steps to where I had fallen. “Why, if it isn’t the Ringbearer! Oh, I say! Are you hurt? Here, let me…Damn, we’ve been meaning to get that step fixed since we came here, and seems we just never get around to it. Waiting for someone to break their neck on it, I suppose. Dreadful sorry, old chap….”
“My neck is fine,” I said sitting up, wincing, “but I think I’ve turned my ankle.”
“Have you now? Here, don’t stand up. Sit on the step and let me have a look.” He actually knelt and took my left leg with surprising gentleness in one hand. “Can you wiggle your toes? Jolly good. Nothing broken. Does it hurt much?”
“Not so very. I’m not good with stairs, and I certainly shouldn’t have been running up them. I–”
“Let me see if I’ve something to wrap it. I did learn a thing or two in the army besides cleaving orc heads, you know. Here, let me lift you up so…” He gathered me up and hauled me right up the steps, then set me down on a long chair overlooking a very fine garden. “Sit tight and I’ll be right out.” He disappeared into an archway and I noticed his horse, standing nearby watching with interest. A coal-black, splendid beast with a white blaze down his muzzle, and white hind feet. I smiled up admiringly at him and he whickered but did not come near. Presently Galendur returned with a roll of cloth and a bottle of liniment.
“It’s not exactly bandaging material, but it’s the best we’ve got at the moment,” he said. “Canvas, nice and stiff. It’ll do until we can get you back home. Here, I’m getting my blade out to slice this, easy does it, there…” He cut the canvas into strips with his dagger, doused it with the liniment, then began wrapping my ankle with surprising skill. “There now. Is that comfortable?”
“Yes, that’s good,” I said truthfully. He looked at me with sheepish eyes, not exactly steely in the moment.
“So,” he said, “have you seen Tilwen today? I guess she told you all about how she came here and caught me talking rubbish with some chums and all? Of course I didn’t mean a word of it. We were all three sheets to the wind, you know, and I’m a perfect ass when I’m drunk. She shouldn’t slip up on a fellow like that, it’s dangerous. I’ve been trying to come and make it up with her, in fact was going right out to try again when you showed up, but her mum keeps shutting the door in my face. I suppose I’ve totally bollixed things up and she hates me now.” He sighed.
“I don’t think she hates you,” I said. “That’s why I’m here, in fact. I…” My hand went to my vest pocket. “I want to read something to you. She asked me to write a poem as a wedding gift to you–that’s what we’ve been about. She wanted me to extol your manifold virtues, and she was going to read it at the wedding. This isn’t exactly what she had in mind, but I’d like to read it anyway….”
“A poem? wedding gift? Oh, I say.” Galendur sat down and patted his horse’s neck absently, and he did have the grace to blush. “As I said, I’m a blithering idiot when I’m drunk, and I truly didn’t mean any of that hogwash I spouted. I never once thought you and she had a `thing’ going on, that was all a stupid joke, but the poor silly dear took me seriously. And I had absolutely no intention of coming after you, except to beg your pardon, and they wouldn’t let me through the gate–quite understandably, of course, after what I–You really think she doesn’t hate me? She really pitched into me that day. You can be glad you weren’t there. Then again, maybe you wish you had been. I’m sure my friends are having a good howl about it. That’s one of the things I like best about her, though. She’s got spunk. I haven’t much use for your mealy-mouthed milky maidens, they get tiresome very quickly. But Til now, she’s a filly of a whole different color. A ball of fire. Do you really think I’ve still a chance, and I haven’t buggered it up totally?”
Maybe this fellow was worth saving after all, I thought. If he loved Tilwen for what she was and didn’t want to change her…and I liked the fact that he’d attended to my ankle before asking after her.
But… “You didn’t really say indecent things about her, did you?” I said. He blushed once more and looked at his boots.
“Well…I think I did say something to the effect that her breasts were like ripe apples, or pears or…or some such nonsense, but that’s all. We fellows get up to all kinds of idiocy when we’ve had a few drinks and think no ladies are listening, but most of us mean no harm by it. And my bachelor days were fast coming to an end, and I wouldn’t be able to indulge myself in such foolishness much longer. The dear creatures just need to come to terms with the fact that when we do our business, it stinks, you know?”
“Umm…I don’t think you’d better put it that way to her,” I said with a little snort.
“Of course not, but you get the point. They expect a bit much of us, that’s all.”
“You expect much of them, don’t you?”
“Yes, but that’s different. But you know, just between you and me and my horse, Elf-ladies aren’t all necessarily as proper as they’re made out to be. I’ve overheard some of them saying things to each other about their husbands that fairly knocked me on my backside from the shock. Actually I wouldn’t mind it if Til were to talk so about me with her girlfriends–I’d be a bit disappointed if she didn’t, in fact. Don’t fellows get up to that sort of thing where you come from?”
“Yes, I suppose we do.” I had to smile. I withdrew my hand from my pocket. I didn’t think he was much interested in my poem. Then on the other hand…I took the piece of paper out and unfolded it, and began to read.
Your steely gaze met a beacon’s blaze
On a mountain-top swaddled in troll-grey
In a cloud of wonder you heard war’s thunder
Swords clashing, boulders crashing
A tattered flag far away;
Black breath, leering death,
Fiery spears, icy fears
Your friends fell day by day
Each wore your face in the flaming space
The next was you, as you well knew
Resigned, you learned to pray.
Comrades united, to fever incited
Screaming cities in the brimstone haze
Catapults spat their scorn in your lap
Trees groaned, cleavers honed
Youth spilled in night’s putrid maze
Streets beleaguered, statues disfigured
Valor fades in invisible shades
You groped for doors in pathless ways….
“It isn’t finished yet,” I said looking down at the sheet of parchment that showed signs of overmuch handling. “It’s not very good, I know. And hardly appropriate for a wedding either, but…”
“You’re not well, are you?” he asked me. I couldn’t tell whether or not he had really heard what I’d read to him.
“I have cancer,” I said tucking the paper back into my pocket. “If I had not come here, I would surely have been dead by now.”
“Oh, sh–I mean, Til didn’t tell me that,” he stammered, and I could swear he looked a bit pale.
“I think she doesn’t know,” I smiled. “And I’m much better now. In fact, I’m probably mostly over it, but it will be a while before I’m able to live on my own.”
“You don’t look dying exactly,” he said. “Just kind of, well, transparent around the edges. You have the look of someone who’s got one foot in another world, if you know what I mean. I didn’t see that at the first, but I’m starting to now.”
“Maybe we should go back now,” I said, rising, forgetting about my ankle. “I’m sure they’ll let you in if I’m with you.”
“This is so bloody good of you,” he said, coming over to assist me. “I’m forever in your debt. Here, let’s take my horse here. He’s a fine fellow. His name is Nightwind.”
“It’s a beautiful name,” I said in some surprise.
“I didn’t name him. He came with it. But I worship the ground he trots on. Don’t I, old fellow?” I tried to keep from laughing as he loudly kissed the horse’s muzzle. “Come on, let’s go!”