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.”
I gaped. “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.
…to be continued.