17. An End and a Beginning
"Now that," Beleg said to his companion, as they watched the tiny lady in the ankle-length pink gown, singing as she removed a large veil from her wide hat and hung it in a small shed next to five large beehives, "is the daintiest little morsel I've seen in many and many a day."
"And that is the fish-boy's mother?" Raegbund said. "And the Ringbearer's wife? Amazing. Rather small, isn't she?"
"Of course she's small, idiot," Beleg said. "What did you expect? But she has the shape and bearing of a young lady. The Ringbearer did well, I do say."
"I've seen the Ringbearer's lady before, from a distance," Raegbund said. "Seemed she was somewhat plumper, however. Perhaps that is her daughter."
"Well, I mean to have her, whether or no," Beleg said. "She's an even fairer specimen than that wench from the village."
"You mean…Calathiel?" Raegbund said, and Beleg glared at him. Raegbund looked away guiltily.
'Tis many a lad
And many a lass
Who'd a chance at true loving
And let it soon pass.
Full many a lad
And many a lass
Let a chance at true love
Just as the spring pass!
In this fair month of May
Let us laugh and be gay
Let us frolic and play
And sing all the day:
Tra la la la lee
Fa la la fa lay
Tra la la la lee
Fa la la fa lay!
Let us now sing and dance
And make sweet romance
Each lad and each lass
Upon the green grass
Tra la la la lee
Fa la la fa lay
Tra la la la lee
Fa la la fa lay!
"Laying it on thick, isn't she," Crystal remarked in amusement as he watched his sister from the window, plucking oranges and laying them in a bushel basket at her feet as she sang. "She needs but a garland of flowers in her hair and a little lamb or two gamboling about."
"And a more attractive swain than that one coming up behind her," laughed Whitegull. "Ugh! I thought Elves were all wondrous fair to behold?"
"That one may have been once," Crystal said, "but evidently he's no Squirrel, and living in the wild did naught for his complexion. Positively orcish he looks, not that I ever saw an orc."
"I'm glad I cannot smell him from here," his cousin said wrinkling her pretty nose. "And that one yonder with the sandy hair is not much improvement. Where is Lotus? I had better call her inside. Ah, I see her skipping about the yard. Silly lass! Amaryllis is far more graceful than that."
"'Tis a most fair voice you have, little lady," a pleasantly rough voice spoke behind Summershine. She whirled about, a hand to her bosom, and looked up.
"Kind sir," she gasped. "You startled me. I did not know anyone was about."
"I beg your pardon, fair one," Beleg said. "But I was irresistibly drawn by the sound of your lovely song. I should have made known my presence."
She gazed up at him with as blue and beguiling a pair of eyes as any could wish to see, and a face that was as smooth and guileless as that of a maiden just ripened into sweet womanhood. Even though he was well aware that she was long past that bloom, and had many generations following her.
"Think naught of it, kind sir," she said dipping him a most charming little curtsey, so that he was able the better to see down the front of her dainty gown. "Did you wish to buy some oranges, or some honey?"
"Perhaps a bit of both," Beleg said. "I have heard reports of the fine fruits grown in this spot, and of the sweet golden treasure put forth by the merry bees of this self-same region. Although I am not from these parts, I have traveled far and wide, having heard tales of the Ring-bearer and his deeds, and wishing to discover for myself his mystery, having heard of the arrival of his steadfast companion."
"I regret to say that my husband is not about," Summershine said casting down her long dark-gold eyelashes demurely. "Being old and in poor health, he and his companion were taken into the custody of the Queen and her family to experience the healing properties at their disposal. But I can see that you have come a very long way, and must be both tired and hungry. May I offer you refreshment?"
You certainly may, Beleg thought. He glanced aside at Raegbund, and saw that the fool was glancing about, looking for the fish-boy, no doubt. Let him go hang, he thought. He had other interests just now. The lad could wait. He barely refrained from licking his lips.
And he had a feeling this little one was smarter than she looked, which made her all the more delectable. Honey hair, blueberry eyes, cherry lips, peaches and cream complexion…not to mention the fruity attractions beneath the gown. This one was a little garden all in herself, without a doubt.
"I would much enjoy some, thank you, little one," he said, fair dripping with gallantry. "But if it is all the same to you, I would rather not go inside your lovely abode, for I am certain you are a fine little housekeeper, and I would not soil your surroundings with the grime of my travels."
"We can take it on our terrace," she said looking up at him with the most enchanting dimply smile. "My daughter and granddaughter would be most pleased to assist me to serve you, and—"
"Granddaughter!" Beleg let his pale-grey eyes goggle in disbelief. "Can I believe the reportage of mine ears? You scarce appear old enough to be the mother of any but the merest babe. And yet…did you not wed a mortal? I was under the impression that you must part with your own mortality in order to do so. Was I wrong?"
"One might make the choice to become mortal," Summershine explained earnestly, "if one wishes. In so doing, one may know the joys of the flesh, of which we of the sea know naught. But also one would come to know the pains also, and death and age, and so at the insistence of my beloved husband, I chose to cling to my immortality. He would not see me faded in age, nor yet to know the pains and weaknesses of the flesh. And he would not have me follow him to the grave. So I made my choice as you can see, without regret, even though it means he cannot give me the pleasures in the marriage-bed that I give him. But I am content to give without receiving in that wise, for the reasons given."
She lowered her eyelids once more, a pretty blush staining her cheeks. Beleg was dismayed. So she still had her powers then? He had not counted on that. This would complicate matters indeed…. Cursing his own stupidity, he looked about for Raegbund, wondering if they should forget the whole business and go jump that ship. The sooner they got away from this accursed Island, the better. But no, he would not go without finishing what he had set out to do. It had never been his way, and he was not about to change now….
"Mister Frodo! What's the matter!" cried Sam as Frodo sank slowly to the floor, holding to his forehead with both hands, the glass falling and rolling away. Northlight and Elrond quickly came closer as Sam caught the elderly hobbit in his arms. Frodo's face was very pale and sweaty and he clearly appeared to be in pain…a good bit of it.
"I…I am all right," he gasped, sounding anything but. Then he groaned, pressing his head into his hands. "Where is the glass…I must…"
"Never mind about that, Ada," Northlight said. "They can do for themselves now. Let me lift you…there…" He laid Frodo on a soft couch near the window. Lord Elrond came closer and looked down at him laying a hand on Frodo's forehead.
"What's the matter with him?" Sam asked in terror. "Is he…having a stroke?"
"My head hurts," gasped Frodo. "Oh….ohhh…."
"Lord Elrond!" Sam cried helplessly. "Do something—please."
Elrond was already doing something, laying both hands on Frodo's head and murmuring softly in Elvish. Sam looked to Northlight, who looked the way he felt.
"It must have taken a great deal out of him," Northlight said, "projecting his thoughts…influencing the others. It's hard for a mortal…I wish I could have done it myself. But I haven't the sight that he has. And I'm afraid…I'm afraid…"
"That it will be the death of him?" Sam whispered. Northlight tightened his lips in anguish, answering the question without answering.
"Where is Nana, I wonder," he said a moment later, as Elrond continued the treatment. "I don't want her to come in and see this. Nor Raven either. I had better go and try to keep them away."
He gave the others a look that seemed to say, Don't let him die on me, and then reluctantly turned away, as Sam saw tears starting in his eyes.
In about half an hour Frodo's headache was nearly gone and his color was almost back to normal, but he was unable to rise from the bed and Northlight had to carry him to the privy. He was not allowed to sit up and Anemone brought him a bowl of hot soup and bread and cheese. Amaryllis sat forlornly in a corner of the adjoining room with Silivren and Castiel on either side of her, holding her hands. Frodo tried to joke a little to the effect of: Well, here we go again, but it didn't come off too well. Sam sat by his side as Anemone fed him and Northlight and Raven beside him, no one else being allowed in as yet.
After a while he fell asleep and Sam sat for a while beside Northlight, an arm around him, glancing up at him from time to time. This is the day he always knew would come, he thought. Maybe he thought he was prepared but he knows deep down he'll never really be prepared. I know that feelin' all too well. Maybe it won't be today but it will be soon now. He won't come out of this. And ain't it a strange thing? I'm not sad for him or myself. I'm only sad for his family. And yet…I don't feel ready to go yet. It's like I said. I thought I'd go when he did. Well, I think he's ready, or almost ready to go now. Although he'll probably linger for a while 'cos that's his way. But I don't want to go just yet. I know I'll follow him soon enough. I have that hope. So I won't be sad for myself. It's them I'll be sad for. In the meantime I'll have to be the ones to buck them up, till it's my time to go and join him and Rosie and the rest of 'em, teach them all how to say goodbye….
After a while he felt Northlight's cheek resting on the top of his head. He could see Anemone sitting there holding Mister Frodo's hand in both of hers and stroking it, and he could hear a bird singing softly outside, and feel the top of his head getting warm and wet, and his eyelids getting heavy….
Then Sam awoke to a shout, and saw Mister Frodo trying to sit up in bed, and he heard running footsteps in the hallway. And Little Iorhael, face and hair both aflame, burst into the room yelling, "THEY'VE BEEN CAUGHT!"