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I Will Know Suffering
By Andy Longwood

I was there when the Ringbearers came to Valinor. I saw their ship when I walked one morning along a cliff that was bordered by the sea, and I paused to watch as the mist was lifted from the water and the rising sun spilled light across the sky. My uncle came and stood beside me as they sailed to the harbor under the swiftly rising sun. Together, we watched their progress.

“The Three have returned,” he said, at length. He was a moriquendi, only recently come to Valinor from the shores of Middle-earth. “Lady Galadriel returns to her immortal home, and Lord Elrond follows his wife. Olrin, who is called Mithrandir by the elves, and Gandalf in the common tongue comes with them, his mission complete.”

He smiled as he spoke; perhaps remembering the moment when his ship sailed past the rain curtain and into the harbor of the Undying Lands. “They will have brought someone with them; Frodo of the Shire, who brought about the end of the One.”

He looked at me, and smiled sadly. “He has known suffering,” he said. “It will be the greatest victory ever made against the shadow if he is to find healing.”

I smiled, was glad that Frodo of the Shire would come to know peace, and thought little more of it.

I did not see him soon after that. My business was not with Halflings from across the sea. When I did meet him, I mistook him for a child at first, for I saw him at a distance as I walked along the beach at sunrise. As I walked closer, I could see that he was not a child, though he was no taller than one, and almost slight enough for an elfling. He stood knee-deep in the waves, his dark hair damp with mist, and even at a distance I could tell that his eyes were very, very blue.

He was not very beautiful. Compared to the elves, he was quite plain, though I thought it inappropriate to compare something so decidedly un-elvish to my people. He had an earthy quality to him, and his face was more suited for laughter than for solemnity and subtle smiles. Yet he stared into the east with utter seriousness, and in the morning mist he seemed almost unreal, like a vision from the world across the sea.

He must have heard me, or sensed my coming, because he looked towards me at that moment, and the blue of his eyes was startling. Then he smiled, a wistful, polite expression, and said a quiet greeting. I stopped, and spoke to him, and that was the beginning.

The moriquendi speak of sea-longing. When they come to us from the shores of Middle-earth, they bring songs that speak of desire that pulls their very souls westward. When they sing, great tears roll down their faces, and they look about in unmatched bliss and weep with the joy of being home.

Once, I smiled politely at their emotion and thought it strange to sing of sadness. I wondered at the longing expressed by the elves not born in the blessed lands, and did not comprehend it. I listened to their songs, I extolled their music, and did not understand.

I believe I finally did when I looked into his eyes.

They are veiled with sorrow. His vision is clouded by the shadows of the past, and when he walks, he is ever drifting eastward. I wondered, when first I met him, why he looked so frequently across the sea, back to the land where he had known despair that had marked him so fully. I asked; but I did not learn for some time.

We walk on the beach, and he speaks openly to me. His quiet, gentle manner is enchanting, and he is unlike anyone I have ever met. He is eloquent in a way that endears him to me, and I delight in listening to the stories he has brought from home. He is quaint, a little gentleman from across the sea. I come to know his fair country through his tales, and I would listen to him speak unto the end of days, Ilvatar willing. Yet he enchants me only with little stories about the adventures had by those other than himself, and speaks nothing of his role in the war. Childishly, I entreat him. I wish to know how such a shadow could have been cast over such an otherwise cheerful, friendly nature. And when he finally tells me his story, he changes my world forever.

He does not know that he is the greatest hero ever come from Middle-earth. He will not speak of himself as such, and instead extols the virtues of Olrin, eternally and affectionately Gandalf, and Aragorn, who reigns in Gondor as the king of men. I am enthralled by their parts in the tale, certainly, yet I have not wept for them as I have for my kind little friend, who suffered so much to save everything he ever loved, only to be rewarded with a ravaged home and sickness that knew no healing. I know why he looks eastward, even when he is surrounded by paradise. He has left everyone and everything he has ever known for a chance to know peace, whether by the gift of Ilvatar or by the healing qualities of Valinor, and he is without a home. And still he doubts his heroism, for he has never failed to leave out the terrible fact that he did not succeed in his quest, in the end.

“The kindness I have been shown here is quite overwhelming,” he admits. “I can not help sometimes but feel that I do not deserve it. I only did what anyone would have done, and I failed where they might have succeeded. And yet, I find myself surrounded by beauty beyond my wildest dreams, in fairer company than I ever expected . . .”

“And still you miss the Shire,” I say. He nods.

“It is not easy to leave home behind,” he says. “But it is harder to return home and find that it has been lost to you.”

I lay my hand on his and look solemnly into his lovely eyes.

“You will never lose what you have been given here,” I whisper. “This can be your home, if you let it. And whether you were to remain here, or in the Shire, or sail to the farthest reaches of Arda, it always will be.”

He smiles at me, and I feel curiously warm and happy.

“You are home to me,” he admits, shyly, and the warm happiness suddenly amplifies and makes my heart race. A smile, wide and unchecked, spreads across my face, and if this moment could only last forever, I would never be unhappy again.

My uncle is the first to notice that my behavior is altered. He follows me one morning and asks to speak, and when we walk together, he delivers words of caution – specifically that I guard myself against becoming too close to the Ringbearer from the Shire.

“You wish that I not be friends with Frodo?” I ask, feeling cold inside. I wonder if I will fight with him, for I am struck with anger at the thought of being instructed against associating with my mortal friend, but my uncle only looks at me with pity. He has not been sheltered by Valinor as I have. He has seen the pain that the gift of Ilvatar leaves, even to those who will one day be subjected to it. He wants to protect me, and I appreciate his concern, but I can not heed his warnings. They have come too late.

“You are lucky to have been born here,” Frodo says. “You do not know suffering. And you never will.”

The waning sunlight has left his face half-dark, and for a moment he seems ghostly, and I am reminded painfully of my uncle’s words.

“I will know suffering,” I whisper.

But he takes my hand, and just then, all I know is joy.

The rest of family has begun to notice that he is ever my companion. They, too, caution me against becoming attached to a mortal. They remind me that he will not be here forever, and that in the end, it will only bring me sadness when he has gone.

They have not yet realized that I am in love. It is better this way. They would not see that I am joyful in his company. They would only lament.

“I would not wish myself on you,” he confesses one evening by the sea. He has been unwell, and his skin is pale in the starlight. It is October, and his wounds pain him more as of late. I kneel beside him and trace constellations across his palm.

“Why?” I ask. “I have never been happier.”

And it is true. To be his consort is more fulfilling than any night beneath the unshadowed stars of Valinor, or any song ever sung by wiser folk than I. The chief pleasures of my home have never satisfied me as much as my time with this strange person from across the sea.

“I feel stronger than I have in years,” he says. “But even the virtue of Valinor cannot prevent my death.”

He withdraws his hand and does not look at me.

“It is not my place to have grown fond of you . . . to love you, even,” and my heart leaps, but oh, he will not look at me, and I dare not move for fear that he will stop. “I must not dream of an eternity with you, because one day, I will receive the gift of Ilvatar, and then we must be parted. And if you were to love me in return, I could not bear to inflict my death on you. I could not bear to be the one to make you know sorrow.”

He seems so fragile in the moonlight, and I am gripped with fear. He must not leave me, not when we still have time. His skin is cold, and his eyes are dimmed, but I reach for his hand and turn his face to look at me.

My heart is beating so fast I fear I will not be able to speak, and I leave my hand upon his face, as if he may fade away if I let him go. He watches me, but his eyes are full of sorrow, and I wish I could erase every hurt he has ever endured.

“Whether or not you would wish it, it does not matter,” I say. “I will know sorrow whether you leave me now or later or whether you had never come to me at all. I will lament you when you have gone; this is true. But do not deny me what time we might have together for fear that I will be lonely when you have gone. I will not die without you,” I promise. “But I will die if I have never had you at all.”

His skin is warming beneath my hand. The breeze blows his scent towards me, and his eyes are full of something new, something rare and beautiful that I have seen all too infrequently in them – he is looking at me with hope.

“Do not make me know sorrow before you have made me know love,” I whisper.

Then he touches my face with his gentle hands and kisses me on the shores of Valinor, and though I have lived for thousands of years in a land of beauty beyond compare, I have never been happier.

My uncle is waiting for me when I return home. His eyes are dark and sad, and he rises, but does not greet me.

“You love him,” he says, not questioning, not accusing, merely stating a fact.

“I love him,” I reply, and together we weep for those who have known the pain of the Gift of Ilvatar.

“You will be happy together,” he says. “Perhaps more so than most, for all that your time is limited. I wish you all the joy in the world.”

And it is he who smiles brightest at my wedding, when I am married to Frodo of the Shire as the sun rises in the east over the misty sea.

Now we are one, and I am blissful in his company. It is my utter joy to be at his side, to watch him sleep at night, to wake to see him smiling at me in the morning. Yet our love is not untroubled, for he is still frequently pained by his memories, and sometimes a darker mood strikes him, and makes him claim that he is not worthy of such happiness. I would laugh at the absurdity of it if it were not so sad, for it is I who do not deserve this joy. I, who have never known anything but contentment, who once walked the shores of paradise with thoughtless cheer at the pleasantries of life, have done nothing to deserve such love. I have been blinded by the perfection of my home, and he has become wiser in fifty years than I could have in ten thousand. Sometimes he cries out in his sleep with pain from his old wounds, or is lost a nightmare from which he cannot wake. Then I hold him close and whisper in his ear until the sun rises and the darkness has passed. Sometimes he wakes from sleep but continues to dream, and then he moves with fear, his actions made erratic by visions of his living nightmares surrounding him and his voice is raised with the pain of his many wounds. Then, I enfold him in my arms and bring him outside where the stars are brightest, and there I calm his thrashing and kiss his scars and weep that I can not make this pain leave him. I love with him, I cry with him, and even when his body shivers in my arms and he weeps with unseen fears beneath the stars, I do not know suffering.

Now Valinor has begun to restore him, and it is the summer of our love. Every day he is more healed in body and spirit, and he glows with good health. We are adventurous together. He delights in things that have only made me smile, and his happiness makes me more alive than I have ever been. Love consumes me, improves me, makes me more whole than I have ever been. We roam the undying lands, and I am ever more taking joy in finding new ways to make him smile. I must give him all of me while I can, and still I do not know suffering.

Now he is old. He stands seldom and walks less, and I find he leans upon my arm when we walk together. He moves slowly and searches out the smoothest ground with shaking feet, and when he sleeps, I leave our home and one by one remove the stones from every path we have ever walked. I smooth the road before him, and guide him by the safest way, but he does not see. His eyes are dimmed, and age has stolen away their color; the beautiful blue that once enchanted me so has faded to gray. Yet his kiss is as deep as ever, and my love for him remains boundless, and though his mind wanders and his hands grow cold, still I do not know suffering.

For only when I have lain my last kiss upon his dying brow; only when I have seen his body put to rest beneath the grass of the Undying Lands, only when I have knelt beside his tomb and watered the lilies with my tears, will I be able to sing of longing; then I will know why some have cursed the gifts of Ilvatar and wept at their immortality. Then I will know what pain Valinor has sheltered me from my whole life, and I will finally be worthy of his love. Then, I will know suffering; and I will love him all the more.
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