11. Portraits in Eternity
A huge cheer arose as Northlight and Little Iorhael pushed the two hobbits along in the double-wheelchair, at which Sam blushed crimson while Frodo smiled and waved cheerily to all. Then he grinned and grasped Sam's hand, remembering his own first arrival on the Island so long ago, at which Bilbo had been the waver and smiler, and he himself the blusher.
Anemone and Raven spread out a large linen sheet on the grass, while Northlight and Little Iorhael lifted the hobbits out of their wheelchairs and set them gently on the ground on pillows placed there for them. Fairwind and Barathon came along with their two youngest—the two big boys were out somewhere, but would probably be along sooner or later, when they realized there was eating going on. Then came Nessima with Little Anemone and Carandol, and the twins with several of their offspring in tow, and Embergold, and Sandrose with some of her brood, Moonrise and Ebbtide with their wives, and assorted others that Sam recognized from the day before but couldn't recall all their names or which name belonged to whom. One of the little ones, Scarlet, begged to wear her great-granddad's eyeglass, but her mummy told her she KNEW that was one thing she must never do; how many times must she be told? Sam told the child that when she was bigger, maybe she could have an eyeglass of her own. He rather doubted that, but it made her smile hugely.
Food was gathered from sundry booths, with children squabbling over who got to fetch what. There was the roast pig, and plates of fruit and elf-bread with butter and honey, some fried fish, baked potatoes, baskets of greens, and a special treat: onions cut into petals and deep-fried in a delicious spicy-sweet batter. Sam, after he had quieted the rumbling in his stomach sufficiently with the succulent goodies heaped before him, could scarcely help but notice the clothing worn by the inhabitants, which was far different than he remembered Elves wearing in Middle-earth. For one, it was considerably more colorful. He had vaguely noticed that fact the day before, but it hadn't really registered with him then, what with the excitement of arriving and all. So it wasn't just because of the Faire. For another, the styles were different in a way he found it hard to describe. The males wore their hair much shorter than he remembered, some of it above their shoulders in fact. And many of the ladies were wearing their skirts shorter…showing their ankles yet. And some of the skirts were, well, wider, flaring out from the waist and spreading out considerable—rather like the skirts hobbitesses wore, he noted. Only, made of different stuff, and some of it spun around wide when they danced, showing ruffly petticoats beneath. Some appeared to be wearing three skirts, in fact: one long one, then a considerable shorter one over that, and a much shorter one over that, some with a good deal of ruffles on them. And some wore shorter sleeves—up above their elbows, for a fact. And many wore wide straw hats with flowers on them.
He noted this to Frodo and Anemone, and Mister Frodo smiled and said the dresses they wore were designed by Anemone. Of course Amaryllis heard this and chimed right in.
"EVERYBODY here wears Grandmum's designs," she declared with pride. "They've been doing it for an eternity now. Even the Queen wears them, although some folks threw fits when she first started doing it. But they got used to it eventually. Some people seem to think we should be wearing the same old style our whole life long. I think that would be deathly boring!"
Several of the others laughed, and Sam said grinning, "Well, my lass, seems Shire-folk think the same. I haven't noticed the fashions there have changed much since I was a lad. I think I'd of felt funny, meself, if everyone's clothes had been different of a sudden. The ladies' gowns here are pretty, for certain, but not what I would of expected of elf-ladies."
"I never intended the wide skirt for everyday wear," Anemone said. "It was meant for special, dancing and such. It's not very practical really, and uses up an awful lot of material. But many of the ladies, especially the younger ones, have taken to wearing them on the street and on the beach and even out in the green. Sometimes you've just got to be very careful what you start."
"You don't see them so much on wood-Elves," Frodo said. "But they tend to be rather old-fashioned and set in their ways. There are not really many wood-Elves on the Island—most of them live in Aman. What few there are here keep largely to themselves. They disapprove of city-folk, calling them 'forgetful of their origins', saying that they 'act like the Secondborn' and fall into vulgar and wasteful habits. That they don't care any more about the old tales and songs, and have even embraced that most barbaric of musical instruments, the Bagpipe. In turn, many of the city-folk laugh at the sylvan ones, calling them boring and stick-in-the-mud, forever plucking on harps in the tree-tops and lamenting the lost glory of bygone ages. Both sides are exaggerating, of course. I'd hardly call the city-folk vulgar, and the sylvans are often quite amusing and vivacious. But I suppose people will always need something or someone to criticize."
"Sea-names became quite fashionable for a time," Anemone said. "There were girls named Whitewave, Stormcloud, Dolphin, Sunsilver, Tranquility, even one called Nudibranch. I don't think she liked it much."
"Tranquility," Sam said. "That's kinda pretty, though. Why is it elf-children don't like to be called Elflings?"
"Same reason we don't like to be called Halflings, I suppose," Frodo said.
"That makes sense," Sam had to admit. Northlight laughed.
"I remember how offended we were," he said, "when my brothers heard that some land-folk referred to us as 'Waterlings.' We fumed and growled over this outrage, and discussed among ourselves what was to be done about it, but could come up with nothing feasible, since we had never even been around land-folk. What were we supposed to do, I reasoned, go ashore and get them wet?"
All laughed, Sam saying softly, "Maybe not such a good idea, at that."
As the picnic progressed, he and Anemone exchanged about half a dozen stories each about their families, much to the amusement of the youngsters. Amaryllis exploded with giggles over the Goatcloset episode (a somewhat cleaned-up version of it), saying, "Just WAIT till Castiel hears THAT one! She will fall over dead laughing."
"It doesn't take much to make her laugh," Silivren noted. "Castiel is my cousin," she informed Sam, who already knew that, but he nodded and grinned.
"There she is now!" Amaryllis squealed, jumping to her feet and grabbing Silivren's hand. "Let's go tell her!" And before anyone could say a word both girls scrambled up and dashed off in Castiel's direction, their colorful skirts and long braids, blue-black and red-gold, flying behind them. Sam chuckled to himself.
"Look," Northlight said softly, laying a hand on Sam's shoulder, "there's Ionwë. His back is to us. That's Arasinya with him, with her husband and her two sons."
He waved to a brown-haired lady a good distance away, with one hand on the arm of a fair-haired gent, her other hand extended to a small boy who skipped away toward a bigger one, bumped into him probably on purpose, then ran off giggling with his brother in hot pursuit. Arasinya smiled and waved back, and Sam hoped she wouldn't come his way, not with Ionwë with her at least, but she didn't show any sign of doing so. Her brother turned about halfway, and waved also, but then quickly turned back to the others. Mister Frodo's expression was hard to read.
"What does he do now?" Sam found himself asking.
"He's a copyist," Northlight said. "The Queen set him to copying out books while he was in prison, and he took to it after a while. I don't think he's so fond of it, but he at least doesn't have to see other people while he's about it. He lives by himself, but Arasinya lives close by. She and her husband and Raven and I sometimes go into the City to the theater all together, and the lads stay the night with Ionwë. Arasinya says they're quite fond of their uncle. His parents are speaking to him now, but he doesn't go about much with them in public. The Queen set the others to copying also, and at first Beleg wrote obscene verses into some of the books until she caught on to what he was doing, and needless to say, she was none too happy about it. She put him to mucking out the stables. Then he tried to escape, thereby earning himself a longer sentence. He didn't try it again. Our Lady is not one to trifle with."
"I should say not, and good for her," Sam said. "So where are the others now?"
"I don't know," Northlight said. "They disappeared not long after their release. They were forbidden to see each other. All were made to apologize publicly to me and my family, and Ionwë was the only one who sounded sincere. He actually went down on his knees to us without being bidden. I doubt the others went to Aman—I don't think they would be allowed in, but I don't know where else they could have gone. I think they might have gone to sea. Or perhaps are living out in the wild somewhere. I've not seen them since they were released, and don't know of anyone else who has."
"Well, I sure hope we don't meet with them," Sam said. He glanced to his left. Anemone was talking to Raven. Mister Frodo was looking thoughtfully at his plate.
"Guilin started going to Temple not long after…it happened," he said after a moment, looking at Sam. "He said he was so thankful Northlight was spared, he would go every week from now on, and sometimes more often. He took quite a religious fit. It didn't last, of course, and sad to say, I was rather relieved about that, because it was quite bizarre. It was as if he had taken to dressing all in yellow, or something. Still, it did show me, finally, that I should be thankful also, and stop moping about. He still goes to Temple, however, with reasonable regularity."
Northlight and Sam both laughed a little.
"It WAS bizarre," Northlight said. "He took to wearing these absurdly drab colors, and going about discussing the nature of Goodness, and Duty, and Sacrifice, and Forbearance and so forth. Yet he was entirely serious. He set aside a day for fasting and contemplation, and going about the forest with his arms lifted in praise of the Powers. Even Nessima didn't know what to make of it."
Mister Frodo laughed aloud then, which was good to hear. Guilin had come closer on hearing his name mentioned, and he laughed also.
"Everyone thought I'd gone bonkers," he said. "I dare say I had, at that. Galendur said I was turning into a wood-Elf. That's what started bringing me around."
All laughed, Sam hardest of all.
"I thought he was going to end up building a tree-house," Galendur said, "like Seragon's father. He's my wife's brother-in-law, and his father is a bit of a nutter. Has a nice little flet built above his wife's house, and perches up there warbling fanciful ditties and preaching to the birds much of the day, I suppose. Naturally, his son's as different from him as night from day."
As the ladies cleared away the remains of their feast, Sam said he would like to get a closer look at the mosaic on the wall near the Tree. Northlight helped him into his chair, brushing the crumbs off the front of his waistcoat. Most of the children had already gone off to play, the smaller ones remaining behind with their mothers.
The dancing was still in full swing, and some of the dancers waved to the hobbits as they rode by. They were so full of life and color, whirling and stamping gracefully about, it did the heart good to watch.
"I remember when we used to dance like that, Anemone and I," Frodo said thoughtfully, and very softly to Sam. "My dancing days are over, of course. But she's still got a bit of spring in her. I hope she finds someone to dance with when I'm gone. She says she'll go when I do, but I don't wish her to. She still has many good years left."
Sam hoped Mister Frodo would be successful in persuading her to remain behind. Not only because she really wasn't old enough yet, but because he intended to go himself when Mister Frodo did, and it would be a bit odd to have the three of them going off together.
The Tree was dazzlingly tall and white and fairly glowed in the noonday sunlight. Sam saw what was no doubt the Orphans' Wall, of black marble on the other side, with a torch burning above the sculpted eagle in the middle.
And then he saw the mosaic. And was struck absolutely dumb.
There it was, just as Mister Frodo had described it to him. It seemed to shine with Mister Frodo's own light. The glass he held actually had light in it, although that may have been where the sun was hitting it. There were the stars around him in the night sky, made of actual gem-stones, with silvery rays all around, and there was a cloud of light about his head, of gold and scarlet flames with white at the edges, and bits of silver worked into the blue of his garment, and the hair was blowing out as if in a gentle wind, and the face was as he had been in his youth, as if he was looking off at something others couldn't see, and longing for it with his whole being. And the hand not holding the glass clutched at his breast as though the Ring were there. And the beautiful gold letters that spelt his name, IORHAEL, at the bottom.
And although the music continued to play, it was as though the entire crowd were holding its breath in silence.
And then he looked at the mosaic beside it.
"How did she do it?" he asked at last. "When she'd never even laid eyes on me."
"I showed her a drawing I made," Mister Frodo said. "I never supposed it did you justice, but she produced an amazing likeness, I should say. I tried to start it off myself, but although Ríannor taught me well, I couldn't seem to pull it off, and she finished it for me."
Sam looked at the portrait, and was struck dumb once more, barely noticing as Mister Frodo took his hand. The sky in the background was day-blue, with red and yellow and white flowers at the edge, the garment green and yellow, the hair sandy-gold, blowing in the breeze also, and both hands held a box of a pretty carved dark wood. And the name PERHAEL spelt in gold also. Between the two portraits was worked a mallorn tree with leaves of gold, spreading protectively over the two faces with white blossoms drooping down. And the blossoms of the real tree in front gave off an airy sweet scent that mingled with that of the carefully pruned rosebushes in front of the portraits. Sam blinked back tears, and felt he could have stayed there all day.
"I just wish Rosie could of seen this," he said at last.