Part III: Ríannor
As a shower of stars her wingéd form descended
In her gemmed breast wisdom and beauty perfect blended
Her hair flowing all but swallowed the midnight
Her footfalls fleeting as twin shafts of quick light
In her shimmering eyes joy and woe quiet mingled…
"Complete rubbish," I muttered and balled up the blotted paper on which I'd scribbled these lines, then tossed it onto the considerable heap of paper balls that had accumulated in the small waste receptacle beside my bed. "'Swallowed the midnight', indeed! And the only words I can think of that rhyme with 'mingled' are 'jingled' and 'tingled', and I don't think I can work either of those in. And don't you think we overuse that word 'shimmering'?"
I smiled in spite of myself, trying to come up with a different word. I had been here for nearly a month, I think, and sometimes I grew impatient and cranky with Bilbo and Gandalf, but when the Lady Elwing entered my room, I immediately straightened up and became a lamb. I'm sure they must have had a good laugh about it behind my back.
And they told me she quite doted on me. I was not so vain as to swallow that whole; probably they were just trying to make me happy, dear old fellows, but it was a most pleasant thought. Very, very pleasant...….
"Frodo," called Gandalf from the terrace, "would the other renowned hobbit-poet like to take a break and come sit out in the sunshine with us for a spell? The day is getting lovelier by the minute…and I must say, the view is breathtaking."
I distinctly saw him wink at Bilbo.
"I suppose so," I called back, "if you will come and carry said helpless creature out there. He's not supposed to go out there on his own feet, even though the privy is much further away and he's allowed to transport himself there."
Once settled into my very comfy padded long chair on the terrace, I saw what he meant by the view. Ladies Galadriel, Elwing, and Celebrian were all sitting together in the garden near a fountain full of twinkling sunlight, along with the Mystery Lady, Ríannor, whom I still had yet to meet. Gandalf and Bilbo sat at a small round table made of glass. Glass tables, yet! What would they think of next?
I was not allowed to smoke, so Gandalf and Bilbo kindly refrained from taking their pipes in my presence. I had been watched quite closely to make sure I didn't light up when no one was about, and they were probably right to watch me. They offered me oranges and honey cake with almonds by way of compensation, and I did not refuse.
"Frodo," Bilbo said holding up a small plate, "look at this. You left a bunch of grapes out in the sun yesterday, and they've dried up completely. Just look at that, they're shriveled up worse than I am." He flung them out into the garden before I could protest.
"I know, Bilbo," I said. "I left them so on purpose. Dried grapes are wonderfully delicious. I discovered that by accident in the Shire not long ago, when I fell asleep out-of-doors and forgot them in the sunlight. Gandalf, will you please go down and get them for me?"
Gandalf retrieved the dried grapes from the grass, plucking one to taste as he did so.
"Hmm…they are nice, very nice indeed," he remarked. "I hadn't known grapes could be dried. Try some, Bilbo?"
"No, thank you," my uncle said waving them away, with his mouth half full. "You two are more than welcome to them. I don't fancy anything dried, myself. Dried grapes, yet! Who ever heard of such a thing? And you shouldn't be falling asleep in the sunlight, my lad; you know how easily you burn."
"I was in the shade; it was the grapes that were in the sunlight," I stoutly defended myself as I laid a few of them on my honey-cake. "Sam and Rosie often baked them into cakes and loaves, and they're quite tasty. To be sure, many other hobbits turned up their noses at them also, but it's their loss. You know how they are about anything they haven't tried before."
I looked innocently at Gandalf. It would be only a matter of minutes before Bilbo would have to try the dried grapes now that he knew other hobbits had turned up their noses at them. Trust him to take on anything that was scorned by the multitude! Then to divert Gandalf's attention away from Bilbo momentarily, I pointed out an amazing bird that had appeared on the lawn, bright iridescent blue with a long, long spotted tail of blue and green and purple and bronze, strutting about now in a glimmer of sunshine as though he were well aware of how much more glorious he looked in the light. But I wasn't really looking at him; rather I was looking sidewise at the silver ball that graced the top of the rail on the terrace steps, in which I could see my uncle's reflection as he quickly reached for some of the dried grapes and popped them into his mouth.
It looked as though he found the taste quite agreeable. Gandalf and I grinned smugly at each other.
I could hardly get used to the way he looked now, with the black hair and youthful face…and his clothes! He wore a muted blue, now. Much easier to keep clean. But, Gandalf the Blue? Surely not. I didn't think the color really suited him, but I said nothing about it. I'd leave that to Bilbo.
I shook my head and looked back into the garden. I wanted to ask about the Mystery Lady, but Bilbo was sure to tease if I brought up the subject of Elf-women around him. I'd have to wait until he dozed off, I supposed, and even then I'd have to be careful. I could see Ríannor now; she had a potter's-wheel and was deftly molding a lump of clay into a graceful shape with her long white hands. I had yet to see her close up, but I could see she was tall and rather too thin, with perfectly straight, jet-black hair that cascaded well past her waist, and skin that had a rather unhealthy pallor to it. And I noticed she did not laugh when the other Ladies did, and that she did not seem to partake of their chatter at all, or even seem to be aware of it, and she still wore black, while the others wore white or soft colors. Lady Celebrian was weaving at her tapestry loom, her hair a mingling of sunshine and moonlight in the green shade. Galadriel worked at embroidery, while Lady Elwing modeled in clay also, but without a wheel. She was shaping it into a dove, or so it looked from here. I could understand nothing of their conversation, but the sound of their voices fell as gently on my senses as a playful fountain on a sultry day.
All of them had experienced profound sorrow, I knew. But from where I sat, they all appeared somehow untouched by it—except Ríannor. I felt a strong curiosity and sympathy as I watched her. I thought of myself, after the Quest, sitting at the Green Dragon with Sam and Merry and Pippin, hearing their chatter and jokes and feeling somehow left out, having no part in it, thinking it had nothing to do with me. Was that what she was feeling now?
Sooner or later, I had to find out about her. I would ask Lord Elrond in the evening.
"Keep watching them, Frodo," Bilbo's voice startled me. "It's much better therapy than Elf-medicine, without a doubt. Pity there were so few Elf-women in Minas Tirith. Your recovery there would have been much speedier, I'm sure. Frodo has quite a thing for Elf-ladies, you know," he remarked to Gandalf with a wink as I choked on an orange slice. "Merry told me all about when they were at the house of Tom Bombadill. Said Frodo here was sweet-talking Tom's pretty lady nine to the dozen at first sight of her. If he'd been bigger, old Tom would no doubt have pitched him out on his ear."
Gandalf laughed aloud, saying, "Yes, I heard about that. Quite the poet, our Frodo!"
My face flamed and I pressed my lips together hard, but I picked up the plate of raisins and held it to my uncle, saying sweetly, "Have some more, Bilbo."
"Thankee, don't mind if I do," he said, and wolfed down the entire plateful without batting an eye. "No doubt you'd have been married by now, if you'd tried that sort of thing on your own kind. But you don't seem to care for hobbit-lasses."
"That is an ugly rumor to which there is no truth whatsoever," I said blushing once more. "Actually, I cared for them far too much. If I had married one, I would not have been able to keep my eyes off others, and would have driven my poor wife mad, I'm sure."
"Pah," Bilbo scoffed. "I think you just don't consider your own sort interesting enough, that's what it is. Now Elf-ladies, they have history about them. Lived through wars and sieges and slaughters and campaigns and quests and Eru knows what all, countless generations of it. Depth and scope and and glory, a world of sorrow and regret and joy and courage and delight, fighting for the right and for the wrong, for freedom and for land and for jewelry, sending husbands and sons off to battle, watching their daughters become widows, yet singing all the while about the beauty and wonder of existence. With hobbit-women, it's more a matter of deciding what to cook for supper, or wondering if the bairns are going to catch that strain of whooping-cough that's going around."
"I've a feeling Bilbo misses making speeches," Gandalf chuckled.
I shrugged, not wanting to tell my uncle the real reason I had not married. He would have blamed himself, as he blamed himself for all the other things that had befallen me on account of the Ring, which had destroyed my ability to be a father. What hobbit-maiden wanted to marry anyone who could not give her a child? I suppose I could have married some widow who needed a male to help her raise the little ones, but there had been none about who had taken my fancy.
"Look," Gandalf said, pointing out the peacock, who had spread his tail-feathers into a large fan. "He's showing off for the Ladies, I declare! Damned conceited fowl."
I smiled gratefully at him, knowing this to be a ruse for getting off the subject of me and marriage. I saw and heard the Ladies, all but Ríannor, exclaiming in delight over the performance of the bird, and once more wondered about her.
And finally I could hold back no longer.
"Who is she?" I asked Gandalf.
"She was a prisoner of Sauron," he replied quietly. I laid down the remainder of my cake, feeling my stomach lurch. "For several years. She must have gone through unspeakable horrors. She was a great queen and one of the Dark Elves on her father's side, and it was her own husband who betrayed her to Sauron, when she refused to join with him. He was a descendant of one of Galadriel's brothers, which is why the Lady has taken her under her wing. He was killed in the War, by his own allies, no doubt. She was liberated with the destruction of the Tower."
I wouldn't make it to the privy on time, so I stayed where I was, but nothing came up.
"Are you all right, dear boy?" Gandalf asked, half rising from his seat. I nodded.
"I'm…fine," I said and somewhat to my surprise, my stomach quieted. But I did not pick up the cake, or even the oranges.
"Why does she not come and speak to us then?" Bilbo asked. "Frodo here was the one who brought about her deliverance, and she does not so much as come and say hello to him?"
"I've wondered about that myself," Gandalf mused. "I know Lord Elrond has not permitted him to have visitors, but Lady Ríannor is a guest here also; surely he would have allowed her to see you."
"It's no matter," I said barely above a whisper. "And I cannot blame her."
"There you go again," Bilbo said, waving the denuded grape-stems at me impatiently. "Didn't we tell you about that?"
"That's not what I mean," I tried to explain, and it seemed my head was starting to spin a little once more. Prisoner of Sauron. Years trapped in his dungeons. Orcs, machines of torture, whips, chains…How had she survived? I put my fingertips to my forehead, and saw that I had broken out into a light sweat.
"You do look a bit green around the gills, my lad," Bilbo said. "Look to him, Gandalf!"
I stood up and staggered toward the rail, and tossed up my afternoon tea on the purple-flowered bushes below.