22. Last Kiss
With an encouraging smile the handmaiden ushered me through the open door. "Her Majesty is pleased to see you now," she said.
I walked swiftly into the Queen's presence. But as I stood before her I was lost for words.
"Dearest Goss," she said in the high tongue of Gondor, "so all is well that ends well. And you, not least, have we to thank for that!"
Still words would not come, but tears sprang forth instead. In confusion I flung myself down on my knee before her and took her soft white hand in mine. As I kissed her fingers I saw Vilya restored to her hand. Where, it is prophesied, it will remain whilst she yet walks on Middle Earth.
"Dearest Queen," I said at last, "I've come to beg forgiveness..."
Her voice lilted like a nightingale. "For what, may I ask?"
"When earlier we met in the Mallorn, you had a boon to crave of me. And I, with my mind fixed upon the King's commission, fled before your face."
She reached forward and touched my brow. "Kinsman," she said laughingly, "all that is long forgiven and forgotten."
"The Lady Elandrine it was who called me to order and made me realise how much I had offended you. And rightly were you offended. Rather should I have pledged my loyalty and my undying devotion. As I do now, my Queen."
She leaned forward and urged me to my feet. As I arose she slipped her arms round my neck and kissed me on the lips.
"Now let me tell you something, my dear Goss. When we met at our tryst in the Mallorn, you saw before you a frightened woman. Nobody can tell what truly will be, but much that comes to pass is revealed to me before it happens. I was terrified by what I foresaw. I saw myself going alone and without friends, even unto the very stake, should I be blamed for the son of Gollum's death. I was determined therefore to gather secret allies and I was ready even to thrust elf kinship before obedience to the Law of Gondor. My people would not have disapproved, but that is not the way kingdoms are held together. Sometimes they are only held by the shedding of the blood of their King. Or of their Queen.
"Were it not for you, all this might well have come to pass. So I say to you, dearest son of Gandalf, go in peace and tread your way down the branching pathways of the years, knowing you have the friendship, nay the love, of the Queen of Elves and Men."
And so with deep obeisance I made to take my leave. But before I did I had this to ask.
"My Queen, one small boon I crave. I would not have the Lady Elandrine continue to think ill of me, nor carry her resentment to the grave. I wish her to know how much I admire her. Though she scorn me, I would return instead feelings of heartfelt respect. Please implore her to think better of me."
Queen Arwen smiled, as if to share a playful secret. "Why don't you tell her yourself?" she said.
With a sweep of her hand she bade me look behind her, and lo! – there was Elandrine, squatting down on the floor behind a game of Fox and Geese, which she and the Queen had been playing before I was admitted. Not expecting to see her in so uncourtly a position I had quite overlooked her presence.
She rose to her feet and danced her way over to me so swiftly that I did not see how she could possibly stop when she reached me. As indeed she didn't. Instead, with arms flung about my neck, she dashed her lips to mine and kissed me rather more voluptuously than the Queen had thought fitting. (But that's what you keep ladies-in-waiting for.)
When our lips parted, leaving us gasping for breath, I said to her. "Lady Elandrine, I did so want to apologise to you too."
"Goswedriol son of Gandalf, you've got precisely nothing to apologise to me for. But I've a mind to make you! Because I'd dearly love to hear your side of the story. I only arrived at the tail-end of your star performance in the courthouse."
Clearly by pre-arrangement, she raised her eyebrows to her mistress for her approval of what she was about to say. "Of course, child," said Queen Arwen sweetly to her unvoiced question. "And there's no need to hurry back."
Elandrine turned to me with eyes sparkling. "What say you then to a picnic? Just you and me, where we can laze in the grass and pass the time and just talk?"
"I'd love that! When?"
"Tomorrow? For they say the day will be fine." Again I saw her turn to her mistress for surreptitious confirmation.
And so it was that on the morrow, barefoot, in simple peasant dress and radiant smile, she met me at the Great Gate of Minas Tirith, basket on her arm, and we raced each other to Snowmane's Howe. There on top of a grassy mound, the breeze toying with her silken hair, she tore bread for me by the handful, and with neither glass nor goblet, as though it were a kiss, we shared a bottle of wine. So passed a joyous day in pleasant discourse and much laughter.
And that was that. Apart from our adventure we haven't got a great deal in common and we haven't arranged to see each other on a regular basis. But we parted friends.
Personally I think she's a plum candidate for Bergil's vacant job: Captain of the Tower of Guard, if they can jerk themselves out of their hidebound mentality and appoint a woman to the post. I've said as much to the King. But I gather he's of a mind to marry her off to some hero or other. Some splendid chap who's been so busy in the King's service he hasn't had a lot of time to go around picking a wife for himself.
"Come back to court," said the King, "and I'll give her to you."
"Alas, Sire," I replied, "even with such an inducement, methinks my travelling days are not yet done. Ever have I made a better bounty hunter than a courtier. And thus might I serve you every bit as well."
"Are you still of a mind then to continue your suit of Mistress Goldberry?"
"That, Sire, is not for me to choose. But one thing I am of a mind to do, and that is make my peace with old Tom Bombadil. After that – the Stars shall choose my path."
The young nurse who opened the door smiled coyly at me. Spring had been late in Ithilien that year, but I thought to myself how around that time even an orc maiden looked pretty.
I entered the timber lodge nestling among the pine trees, built above the wartime secret bunker of Henneth Annûn, and followed closely behind the nurse. She led me past richly carved tables and chairs decked with cheerily gaudy cushions, down the long winding staircase to the banquet hall, which is kept just as Frodo saw it. The sun was going down behind the distant mountains of the Ered Nimrais, but you couldn't actually see them behind the vast rippling curtain of the waterfall. Instead the sunset lit it up and made it look like a wall of descending flames.
Old people sat around hunched in blankets, silently bearing the burden of their twilight years, with little energy or inclination to turn their gaze to meet newcomers. Giving me a sweet smile, Lady Éowyn picked her way between the bath chairs to meet me. She was wearing the uniform of the Sanatorium, of which she was foundress and matron and, as usual, looked thoroughly in her element. I could not even imagine her now in the tall mithril helmet of the Tower of Guard, her shoulders draped in a cloak of black and silver, wielding a sword. Positively for the last time, as she assured us all afterwards.
"Why, Goss, how nice to see you here! And you've come at the right time to admire our glorious asset."
"That I am doing, Lady Éowyn. And I'm even thinking of booking my place here for when I'm old enough to need it." Laughingly she took that in the spirit I meant it.
"I've come to see Tom," I said.
Instantly her face grew grave and wistful. "Tom passed away the day before yesterday."
"What? You mean... why that's impossible!"
"No, not impossible. Just unexpected."
I sat down hard in the nearest chair.
"I simply can't believe it! Why – Tom can't just die! He's immortal! He's part of the scenery...!"
Lady Éowyn sat down too, gently placing her hand on mine. "All things change", she said. "All things come to an end. Why, there are vast boulders out there, on the fair slopes of Ithilien, that haven't moved for a hundred thousand years. Then suddenly one day they tumble into the valley. How can we deny that such things happen, when the evidence is all around us?"
I looked at her and tried to speak, but only baby sounds came out. I felt so silly.
"Tom was something left over from a previous age," she explained, patting my hand. "We are into a New Age now. Much that was has passed away. Much that looks so new now will look so ancient in a few years' time that people will think it's always been there. And they will be so surprised when one day it falls over with its feet in the air."
"Where's Goldberry?" I said.
"Goldberry came, kissed Tom's brow, and left."
"Was that all? Didn't she have anything to say?"
"What was she supposed to say?"
I had no answer to that. It seemed so final.
"No," continued Éowyn, "she paid-up for Tom's stay, paid us to make arrangements for the funeral, and then took her leave. She didn't say where she was going."
"Did she say anything? I mean – did she leave any message? ...For me?"
Lady Éowyn blinked as if she was trying to remember something. "Oh yes! She did leave a letter. I think it's addressed to you. Here, I'll just go upstairs and get it."
This is what I read, by the light of the dying sun upon falling waters, the great upside-down fiery curtain of Henneth Annûn, Window on the West...
Henneth Annûn, Friday the 19th of May, Year 48.
Dearest Goss, my travelling companion, my lover, my friend,
Job done. Time to go.
It was great fun while it lasted. But it was too good to last.
And now let me explain myself. I'm sure you never did believe the story of why I left the Old Forest to come all the way down here. Grimwald didn't. But he doesn't matter. You do.
Tom hasn't really died, you know. He's just gone back to where he started. And I'm going with him.
Old Tom was very wise, you know, for all he used to clown about and say silly things. We'd watch the world unfolding in the little pools which the swirling river cuts in its grassy banks. And most of what we saw was a delight to us. The world unfolding as it ought. But sometimes what we saw was sad and grim. And yet we stayed sitting in our little house in the woods and we never felt the need to interfere, to warn or advise, unless someone came knocking on our door. Then I suppose we tried to make up for it by giving all the help we could.
But one day there comes the dawn of a New Age. It's no longer an option to sit there and let the world go by. Because it isn't going to go by. It's encroaching all the time. It's eating away its banks. In the end it will sweep away everything that stands still.
Old Tom knew this. One day he said to me, "Goldberry my girl, we can't just sit by and let this thing happen!" And so we hatched a plan. Tom took it hard, and so did I, but we packed our bags and left our little cottage, knowing we'd never see it again. We sailed down the big river to the big city and we went to places we'd never choose to go, and saw sights you'd never want to see.
Both Tom and I knew that to really take part we had to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty. I shall never forget that night we met up in Minas Ithil, you and I. At first I was only an illusion in your eyes, just a projection of your fantasies. And then you made the discovery that there was flesh and bone underneath. That could well have been the end of it.
But then this awkward thing called Love cuts in. The Love machine. All of a sudden, Goss, you reckoned your own safety – your continued existence – not worth a candle next to the idea that I was burning to death. And in my turn I knew then I was going to have to go all the way with you – right to the bitter end. And goodness! Didn't it look bitter at times!
I came to know that the fate of kingdoms is tightly bound up with my own little life. Tom and I said to each other that in all our years, this present age, this here and now, has been the best hope ever to arrive on the scene for Middle Earth. I know! – that's what we say every time! But, just for once, we couldn't stand idly by and see it all collapse again in shame and disorder.
And so I battened on to you, hoping to play some small part in the crucial events of the last few weeks. I knew that to do so I would have to suffer pain and degradation and be dragged in the muck. But I found a man who knew all about muck – and neither revelled in it, nor let it stop him dead while he looked for a way round... which might not have been there. And so we achieved something worth looking back on. For you anyway, if not for me. Because I'm only a river nymph, a projection of your watery fantasies. Like I was of Tom's.
Now that Tom's gone I'm just going to evaporate. I shall leave Henneth Annûn and I shall give myself to the waterfall outside and let myself be borne away to the Great River, and thence down to the sea. I shall become foam upon the waves. I shall rise up with the sunlight to the clouds. And then I shall fall upon mountainside and forest and trickle into brooks and streams and rivers... and that's the way the world goes round.
But Goss, my love, don't grieve. We will see each other again! You'll see me, to a greater or lesser extent, in the face of every girl you meet from now on. Because that's my nature – that's me.
She had initially signed-off at this point – and a tear had fallen on the paper. But she had scratched out her signature and taken another sheet...
I tried to be helpful, but I'm afraid I was an awful burden on you. Yet I like to think I did my little bit in the end. Tom had a palantír, you know. Or perhaps you don't. It's the Stone of Amon Sul. The sea nymphs, my sisters, recovered it from the ice-wreck of Arvedui Last-King's ship and entrusted it to our care. Because, like us, they knew it shouldn't just drop out of history. They knew it had one more part to play in the unfolding of the world. Now I'm taking it back to the sea.
When we parted in the bistro in Minas Ithil, before I followed you to Minas Tirith, bringing Snargy as you asked, I went back and fetched Tom's palantír from my apartment. While you were in prison I crept secretly into Rath Dínen, where the kings of Gondor lie sleeping eternity away. When they brought you upstairs for trial I was once again sitting on the tomb of Denethor, watching it all happen. Just like Tom and I used to do by the pools of the Brandywine. Once again I took the blackened palantír from Denethor's scorched hands (he was always thinking about the Ruling Ring, and it's locked in there – you can see it in among the flames!) and I touched it against the Stone of Amon Sul. Tom lent me all his strength – I have none of my own that does not go with the river's flow. He gave me everything he had to give.
I was watching you the whole time. When Elandrine came down the steps to strike you dead in front of the whole court, she hadn't wanted you and her to be invisible. She wanted to make an exhibition of herself making an example of you. To give you a chance – by cloaking you in the protection of the elf rings – that was my little contribution.
Then, in that last mad dash through the bedrooms and secret stairs of the White Tower, I switched the power of the rings on and off by touching and parting the palantíri. You may have wondered why the rings would suddenly work one minute and not the next. Well, that was me nudging you along. And then, when that horrible Imalad met his end – in that very instant Tom expired, and I flopped back on the marble slab beside the old steward. It was hours before I could make the effort to put his palantír back in his bony fingers, pick up Tom's and drag myself back to Minas Ithil in time to catch the stagecoach out here.
Have fun with Elandrine. I shall miss you both.
I sat there letting the tears stream down my face. Lady Éowyn didn't say anything. She just went and got me a cup of hot camomile tea and sat and waited. She didn't ask questions. She just let me cry it out of my system.
Then I got up, took my leave of Lady Éowyn and went in search of Snargy. He was playing on the grass outside, even though it was too dark to see much by. He wouldn't come in. He doesn't like old people. At that age you don't have to bother with them, do you.
"Have you been crying?" he accused.
"Don't be silly," I sniffled. "Big men like me don't cry."
We mounted up on Bess and plodded back to Osgiliath by way of Minas Ithil, where we stopped off for an ice cream each at the bistro with the green slatted chairs.
"What'll we do now?" asked Snargy.
"How'd you fancy going way out East tomorrow, beyond the Sea of Rhûn?"
"What's out there?"
"Well, that's where old Treebeard got himself chopped up for firewood. He was looking for the entwives, so Quickbeam told me over a bucket of green water. He called Treebeard a silly old fool."
"Well he was, wasn't he?"
"Look here my boy. Don't you see? What if we find the entwives – where Treebeard failed? Think of the fame! Think of the money! Why, the ents alone now..."
"What will the ents do for us?"
"Well... we'll be set up in buckets of green water for life!"
---THE END ---
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.