74. Certain Matters
I must admit, Fairwind's news came as something of a relief, at the first. How many times had I gotten my hopes up so I could have done with thinking of it? I could stop worrying about what to do when the time came. But still I kept it to myself, for I'd rather have the worrying than have her know any sooner than she must.
But now the time has come.
"I know you told us all not to discuss it even amongst ourselves, for fear she would hear of it," Fairwind said as we rode homeward. "But I think Ebbtide forgot to tell Jasmine not to speak of it. It would be just like him. But now she's gone off who knows where, and he is devastated. I can't feel very angry with him any more. I hope she'll come back for his sake, although to be truthful I don't like her very much, and I think he'd be better off without her."
I had heard from both Moonrise and Sweetfern that Jasmine had taken another mate while Ebbtide was gone, then quickly tired of him and came back to Ebbtide. As you may well suppose, I frowned severely over this, but Ebbtide obviously adores her, so I said little of it. Perhaps she would straighten herself out amongst the others here on land, and then they could be properly wedded. But my hopes are slim. She is a languorous sort, not one who would likely be willing to work and do all it took to make a happy home. Perhaps it's premature to think she is lazy, fickle, and not highly intelligent, since I don't know her so well yet. But yes, I'll admit I am in agreement with Fairwind. What do parents do when one of their children fancy a mate who is unworthy?
"I'm not angry with him either," I said. "I imagine Jasmine brought up the matter, and he had little choice but to speak of it, under the circumstances. Perhaps she's not completely at fault either, if she didn't know, although she should have thought of it, with your mother right there in the house. Maybe we should refrain from pointing fingers and assigning blame, it will do no good in the end. We should deal now with the fact that your mother does know of it, and take care of her as best as we can."
"Yes," Fairwind said thoughtfully. "But how might we do that?"
"I suppose it will come to us," I said. "Our hearts will guide us if we listen. I think she will feel to blame for the way he went, although I'm certain that was much more his father's doing. Is she very angry with me—or you?"
"I think not," Fairwind said. "She knows why you had us keep it from her, and perhaps is even thankful to you. And she is glad I saved the rest of you. But...well, I am no mother and perhaps never will be, but I can see her pain if not feel it all. And if she feels more than I, then she must suffer terribly. We will be staying now. She needs all of us with her. Sweetfern says Nana's brothers and sisters and their families are seeing to Darkfin's dominion now, they do not need us so sorely."
"I'm glad of that," I said, and awful as it sounds, I was vastly relieved. "I wish it could be under less sorrowful circumstances, but since when does life work the way we wish all the time, even here? I will be thankful you are staying, at least. It's the most I can do. And I suppose this is a rather bad time to bring up the subject, but Barathon spoke for you today. Did you know he had an interest in you?"
A glimmer of a smile flickered over her face for a moment. "Yes, I knew it. He spoke for me?"
"Yes, he greatly fancies you, and wishes to make you his wife," I said. "I told him that was strictly up to you, but if you were agreeable to it, so I would be. Do you return his feelings in any measure?"
She was silent for a moment, and I had a notion that Barathon's emotion was not entirely unrequited.
"I do like him," she said. "But…well, does he know—much—of me? That I am barren, and that...about the boat?"
"I told him you might not be able to bear children," I said. "He seems all right with that. The thing with Darkfin I did not tell him. I did tell him you were a warrioress—he knew it already, as it happened. But I was not sure as to how much he should know."
"I had a feeling he fancied me," she said. "And some of the other actors seemed to like me, but that was different somehow. There seemed something selfish in their liking. I did not see that with him."
"Selfish? Lustful, do you mean?"
"Lustful? I suppose so, although I do not understand that in full. But I think there was something besides lustfulness. A wish to subdue me to their will, to possess me as a prize mare or some such, show me off, take pride in 'owning' me and having 'won' me, and so forth. I could not abide that sort of thing. But I do not think they were truly aware that was what they felt."
I had to smile a little. "My wise Fairwind," I said softly. "No, I saw naught of that with Barathon. But if you would accept him, do so only if you wish to, do not do it to please me, or Nana."
"What if I were to become his mate?" she said. "Would I know the joys of the flesh, as Nana does with you?"
I told myself I should be used to this sort of talk by now, and should not be so absurdly prudish in discussing Certain Matters with my own family. Yes, I am rather traditional in that way, and feel that her mother should be the one to instruct her and her sisters in such things, as I do with my sons. But obviously I was not in a position just then to point this out to Fairwind—who is an adult after all, and she is the one who is not embarrassed about the subject.
"You would," I said foolishly trying not to blush. "But do not wed him for that alone. It is a vital part of marriage, but it is by no means all there is. I suppose you know this already, but please do not let any curiosity sway you in this matter. I would not have him hurt thus. And besides, I suppose you know also that being able to feel great pleasure also means being able to experience immense pain as well. One cannot have one without knowledge of the other."
"Yes, I do know it," Fairwind said, "in my head. It frightens me somewhat to think of it. I would know pain not only of the body, but of the heart as well. But if I became fleshly, I would have it all the more? As Nana now does?"
"Yes, I am afraid you would have that risk," I said. "I sometimes wonder at the Sea-Lord for creating his children as he did, with so little ability to experience deep emotions or physical sensation, but surely there was a good reason for it. Do not make any hasty decisions, my dear. I wish you all the joy you can hold without the pain, but the choice will be yours alone in the end."
"I saw some of the pain of Lady Celebrían when she was bearing her child," Fairwind said. "It was most frightening, and I wondered why she must endure it, when she had not done wrong. But then I saw her joy in her newborn, and she did not seem to remember what came before. I thought perhaps I would be willing to bear it, myself, to have what came of it. But it seems that is not to be, for me."
"I'm not so sure," I said, feeling profoundly thankful that she would never know what Lady C. knew that brought her to the Island. Or what I had known. "Perhaps if you were to wed him, your ability to bear children could be restored. I've been told mine could, if I chose it. And perhaps you are not barren at all; your time has just not come yet."
She smiled softly, and I hoped she would wed Barathon, not just so she would stay on the Island, but so that she would have the joy that would make her as lovely as that smile was making her, and then some.
"Should we go and fetch Northlight and Raven?" she said after a long moment. "We nearly forgot them."
"No, they are in classes now," I said. "Guilin will bring Northlight home. And Raven is within walking distance, and Emleth walks home with her. They need not know just yet. I suppose the twins and Embergold are attending to your mother?"
Fairwind nodded. "I hope Moonrise is not being too hard on Ebbtide, and that he will help him find Jasmine. Or else persuade him that he is better off without her. I know you don't like me to speak harshly of others, Ada, but Ebbtide is my brother, and I cannot help but think hard things of those who would hurt him. He may be silly sometimes, but he would harm no one, himself."
"Yes, sweet one, I know," I said laying a hand over hers. "I have been thinking hard things of her also, and I know it is hard to refrain from speaking them aloud. The trick is to try not to have the hard thoughts. And the way to do that is to try to understand why people act as they do. That is the only way one can avoid hating certain folks, and escaping the bitterness that mars one's own character."
"Then I will try to understand," she said, "for I wish to be like you. If I cannot be a mother, then I will be a healer, as Eowyn wished to be. Do you think Barathon would allow it, if…?"
"I not only think he would allow it, he would see to it that you had the best possible training," I said, positively beaming now. "If you truly wish this, I will see to it myself. Perhaps Lord Elrond himself would be willing to teach you, or else Lady Elwing. Have you spoken to your mother of this?"
"No, not yet. Should I?"
"By all means. I should think it would be a comfort to her, to know you have this desire."
"I do have it, and I will tell her. And I think later on I shall go and tell Barathon I will wed him if he likes. Although I suppose today is not a good day to do so."
I suppressed a chuckle. "Umm…I'm afraid that is not the way it is done here, my love," I said. "You must allow him to ask you first, then accept him if it is your wish. Although I've a feeling he would be thrilled if you were to do it your way, I doubt it would go down so well with his mother. Who may be another obstacle in your path, but I haven't a doubt you will win her over eventually. And there is his nephew also."
"Emerion? I've met him. He was at rehearsal once. He's adorable. He has lovely manners, and talks so interestingly."
"Wonderful." I sincerely hoped that marrying off the others would go so well!
Just the other day I had run into Calanon, Galendur's nephew, in town, and it seems he heard about the wave-riding incident and wished to try it for himself. Well, he mastered the trick in just three days, he said, and now he can't get enough of it, although naturally his mother does not approve. He said he had a feeling it would soon become a way of life with him—he was joking, but I detected a small note of seriousness underneath.
"By the way," he said as we walked along the street (somehow I had a feeling that our meeting had not been entirely accidental), "the twins…they are really most jolly. I've never met any girls like them before. They say…things…I mean, unexpected things. I never know what they're going to say, and that's…well, some lads wouldn't like that, but I do. Some of the things they say might shock some people, I know, but to me there's something kind of, well, innocent, about it at the same time. And they don't go around worrying about getting their clothes dirty or their hair mussed all the time, and they don't say mean things about other lasses, and they laugh instead of giggle, I mean really laugh out loud, yet it sounds so pretty, and they make me laugh, and they're fun to be with and all. And they're so sweet too, I mean, look at them with Raven, they're tender with her, they never treat her like she's some little brat who should get out of their way. They're like little girls in a way, but not childish, if you know what I mean. They've quite spoilt me for Elf-maidens my age, they're that different. I know I'm rather young for courtship and all, at least my parents think so, although my eldest sister was wedded when she wasn't much older than I, but…well, do you think I stand any sort of chance with the twins?"
He was getting a red face. I grinned to myself, thinking that a lad who looked as much like Galendur as he did stood all kinds of chances with any girls.
"Well, perhaps, but not with both of them," I chuckled, remembering Perion and his legion of sweethearts. Calanon does have two sisters also, but they are much older and married, and not likely to be much protection should he arouse any maidenly ire. "Which do you like best?"
"That's just the thing—I don't know," Calanon stammered, shoving his hands into his pockets, then taking them out again and looking to them as if for answers. "They're both jolly…but they're not alike in personality. Nightingale…sometimes I think I like her best. She plays the hardest, she's not afraid of anything and doesn't mind taking chances. She's smart and clever, and says just what she thinks. But then Gloryfall, she's gentler, she's more…emotional, or something, more impulsive. She's less decisive, but she likes to be in on all that's going on. She says what she thinks, but in a different way, it's hard to describe. But I guess you know better than I do."
"Yes, I am well aware of their differences and similarities," I said. "I suggest you take your time, and get to know them better. Have you any driving ambitions other than wave-riding?"
"Well, my parents wish me to go to the college," he said, "but, I admit I don't fancy studying. Once I'd thought I would like to be a knight or a soldier or mariner or something, and have lots of adventures, but I guess there's no call for that here. It's well that we have sports and all, or things could get a trifle dull, wouldn't you think?"
I laughed ruefully. "There's much to be said for dullness," I said, "although yes, that's an adult point of view. And yes, I once thought as you did, before I had my big adventure, and I was not even a boy then. It seems Elves are getting wed here and having families much younger than in Middle-earth, now that peace abounds and the dangers are past. But it does still involve a great deal of responsibility and hard work, along with all the wonderful things."
"I know," Calanon said. "That's the scary part. My father makes a good deal of money and all, but I don't fancy doing what he does. Working in a counting-house sounds horribly boring to me. I'd rather be up and doing, on boats and water and all. I think I'd like to get work on one of the ships that imports stuff from Aman--stone, and oil, and all that. Or maybe be a fisher. I think I'd like that. But my mother says such is 'beneath me' and I ought to set my mind on 'higher things.' But I don't LIKE higher things. And I don't like to be around the folk who do them. I like to be around folks like you, and Uncle Galendur and Aunt Til, and Uncle Leandros, and the twins, and the rest of you, who like to have good times and don't worry about having to make the right impression every minute. Please don't tell my mother I told you this, but I just can't abide her snooty friends. Every time they come over, I take myself off as quick as I can. Some of my friends envy me coming from such a 'nice home' and all. But I'd swap places with any of them in a heart-beat."
Well, he was no Barathon, I thought as Fairwind and I rode homeward, and saw the waves beyond the cottage twinkle in the afternoon brightness. Then again, he's only a lad yet, and I dare say there is more to him than meets the eye and ear, and with a little maturity on him, he might do. If he can manage to choose between the girls, that is!
But now we were home. And I could see Anemone sitting on the beach with the twins, their backs to me, the sun blinding on their hair…right beside the words I had written in the sand.