There is an air of anticipation beneath the enormous Party Tree. Overhead, the stars flicker like gemstones scattered across a blanket of black velvet. Tonight, they gleam extra brightly, as though they are leaning nearer to the ground in hopes of overhearing what the mortals are up to.
An enormous crowd has gathered on the soft, green hillside in the peaceful Shire. Food has been plentiful, the musicians have been busy, the dancing has been fast, and the laughter loud. Stories have been shared since the party began in the early afternoon, but now, night has fallen. With the fading of the sun, torches flared to life by some unknown magic. Though some of the hobbits exchanged a knowing smile with an old man in a tall, pointed hat, who has been sitting beneath the party tree entertaining groups of rambunctious children.
The crowd has begun to drift towards the Party Tree, taking their seats as they do, so I take this moment to step up on the platform. At my appearance, the crowd quiets, staring expectantly.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” I begin. I glance about, but the person I am looking for is suddenly nowhere to be seen. I frown, well… wherever Gandalf has gotten himself off to, I’m not too worried. He will appear precisely when he means to, and not a moment before. “You all know why we are here. Tonight we kick off the 2019 Silmaril Awards Ceremonies!”
There is a great cheer and applause. The crowd surges to its feet, and I can see many familiar faces scattered throughout the crowd. Dr. Pym, with three young children sitting around him, Aethelbald with his bride on one arm and a few friends surrounding them (and I’m sure I saw a large, yellowish cat prowling around earlier), a wizard with a somewhat faraway look on his face who was having a hard time with the spoons… oh! I forgot to tell them not to use the actual silver-ware! I knew I forgot something! (Planning this party has been rather an event all by itself!) there are several wizards, with their students in tow, a tall man who has been playing with various different knives all evening, a very polite mechanical butler accompanied by two men who performed stunning illusions for the crowd earlier in the day, and quite a few more faces I don’t recognize. In fact, only one person on the invite list has not appeared… but that is unsurprising, considering the fact that he is hosting rather a lot of dragons in his home cave currently….
I shake my head, pulling myself out of my observations.
“Tonight, we present the Wisest Counselor Silmaril. This award…”
“Excuse me, young lady,” a voice behind me interrupts. “But I believe this is my job.”
I grin. “Please,” I wave him forward and a tall man with a long, white beard and a knobby staff strides onto the platform. “Join me in welcoming the presenter of this award, the standard of wisdom and guidance himself, Gandalf!”
Gandalf winks at me as he passes by, and I take my seat.
“As our gracious host was saying,” Gandalf says, “this award can only be granted to the wisest among you. It must go to one who is willing, not only to teach and guide others, but one who is willing to go above and beyond the call of duty for his or her students or proteges. There are many of our creed in the various fantasy realms, but this year, the readers have spoken, and five among you have been singled out for special favor.”
He nods at the five finalists seated in the front row.
“In fifth place, with eleven percent of the votes, we congratulate Beana of The Goldstone Wood!”
The nanny goat ambles up onto the platform, a young girl walking beside her. The audience bursts into enthusiastic applause. The young girl, a veil covering her face, gives an awkward curtsy, then gently pushes the goat’s nose away from Gandalf’s robes. “Beana! You can’t eat Gandalf’s cloak!” she says sternly.
The nanny goat gives a mournful bleat and the two of them move over to the far side of the stage.
Gandalf bows his head to the nanny goat. “You do a fine job with your young charge, my lady. I know how difficult it can be to pretend to be less than you are.”
A knowing silence passes between them, and I’d swear the goat smiles at Gandalf.
The wizard turns back to the microphone. “In fourth place, with thirteen percent of the votes, we have Rayad of the Ilyon Chronicles!”
An older man in simple clothes reluctantly stands up, urged forward by the younger man sitting next to him. Rayad turns to the younger man and beckons, but he shakes his head.
“Jace! You talked me into this foolishness, you’re going up on that platform with me or I’m leaving right now,” the older man says gruffly. “I’m not standing up there by myself, and that’s final!”
The younger man heaves a sigh and stands, ducking his head as though self-conscious about his pointed ears. (He does not appear to notice that such a characteristic is neither rare, nor a frowned-upon trait in this land). There is another round of applause as together they shuffle up onto the stage and do their best to stand behind Beana and Rose Red.
Gandalf eyes Rayad kindly. “You shine the Light when all seems to be darkness. Do not grow weary in your task.”
A burden seems to lift from Rayad’s shoulders, but he merely nods.
“In third place,” Gandalf continues, “with twenty percent of the votes, is Ranger Halt from the Ranger’s Apprentice!”
The crowd surges to its feet, then pauses in confusion. The place where Halt and Will sat is vacant, and neither ranger is anywhere to be seen. A moment later, Halt stands before Gandalf, Will at his side, seemingly appearing from nowhere. The audience resounds its approval at this clever trick, and Halt takes Gandalf’s proffered hand before striding across the stage to stand next to the other nominees.
“You show wisdom in your teaching,” Gandalf says, “and also in your careful choice of apprentice.”
Will’s face turns a bright shade of red at this unexpected compliment. Halt glances sideways at the young man, and a rare smile tugs at the corner of his mouth before his expression returns to its usual stony grimness.
“I would have to agree with you, there,” he acknowledges.
Gandalf laughs outright at this and turns back to the audience. “In second place by only three votes…” he pauses.
An expectant hush falls over the crowd.
Gandalf lowers his bushy eyebrows.
A massive firework bursts in the sky like a sunflower filled with diamond dewdrops and the crowd gasps with awe.
“With twenty-seven percent of the votes, we welcome…. PUDDLEGLUM!”
A cheer resounds through the audience and a tall, weedy figure unfolds himself from where he has been slumped in his seat. He climbs slowly up onto the stage, his face pinched into a mournful frown as he comes up to stand next to Gandalf.
“Second place,” Puddleglum shakes his head. “Rather more than I expected, really. When it comes to advice, well… I never expected to be nominated at all. But if you want my advice,” he glances at the sky. “You should take these proceedings inside. It’s likely to rain, I shouldn’t wonder.”
“My good fellow,” Gandalf looks down at the gangly figure. “There’s not a cloud in the sky.”
Puddleglum straightens slightly and gives Gandalf a long, measuring glance, then nods. “Best to put a bold face on it. Wouldn’t want to go scaring folks when such an enormous storm is coming. Times like these, they test the mettle of a man.”
“Er… yes… rather,” Gandalf for the first time looks a little unsettled as the marsh-wiggle meanders over to the side of the stage to stand with the others. “Well, we have come to the end, as it were. The winner of this year’s Wisest Counselor Silmaril… with twenty-nine percent of the vote… is REMUS LUPIN!”
There is a sound like thunder as the crowd surges to its feet, many knocking over their chairs in their enthusiastic response. A young man, stands up, his light brown hair flecked with gray, belying the youth of his face. His shabby, much-darned wizard’s robes flutter about him as he steps uncertainly up onto the stage beneath the pale light of the moon. He glances up nervously, then looks about. A trio of young people, also wearing wizard’s robes, trail after him, their expressions encouraging as Lupin steps up to stand next to Gandalf.
“It is my honor to grant you this award,” Gandalf intones. “May the Light of Valinor ever brighten your path and lead you true.”
He hangs the medallion around Lupin’s neck, and the wizard straightens slightly, the weariness falling from his eyes as the medallion shimmers softly against his chest, shining with an internal light that rivals that of the stars themselves. He smiles down at the students around him.
“It is my honor,” he insists, shaking Gandalf’s hand, “to accept this award. And I am humbled. I only hope that my poor attempts to counsel these bright young minds help them in the various trials I fear they may encounter.”
“Professor,” the curly-haired girl protests, “really….”
“You’re the only teacher we’ve ever had who taught us ANYTHING worthwhile,” the dark-haired boy with glasses speaks at the same time.
“What they mean to say, really, is that we think you’re brilliant,” the red-headed boy says in a matter-of-fact tone.
The dark-haired boy nods his approval at his friend. “And nobody deserves this more than you.”
Lupin gives a self-conscious smile. “Thank you, all. I appreciate your support.” He glances around, as though hoping nobody will ask him to give a speech.
Another burst of color lights up the sky, distracting the crowd from the people on the stage. Gandalf, in his wisdom, smiles kindly at the finalists.
“I think it is time for some cake,” he suggests. “And perhaps some more stories.”
They all brighten and hurry off the stage beneath a shower of sparkling lights that burst across the sky in intricate designs never before beheld in any realm… the mentors and their proteges find themselves quiet tables where they can talk and reminisce long into the night….
The sun rises the next morning on a field strewn with banners and streamers and sadly deflated balloons. But those bustling about to clean up the aftermath of the party do so with glad hearts. For the fun is just beginning, and they have all been invited to the next celebration!
And you are invited as well! Make sure to head over to the next awards ceremony TOMORROW where we will find out this year’s Most Epic Heroine!