Welcome to the presentation for the Wisest Counselor Silmaril Award for 2020, part of the fantasy character awards hosted on silmarilawards.com
And now that you know the purpose of this magical post, on with the ceremony.
High atop the Misty Mountains, in a lonely crag, Gandalf the White takes his paces. Far down the mountain, five figures struggle against rock and ruin, seeking to find the path. His eyes study their progress for they see farther now than they once did. Such is the gift for those who dwell long in Manwe’s presence on Taniquetil.
“The Holy Mountain…” he says to the winds. “And yet these mountains hold their own beauty, though crafted by other hands and for sinister purpose.”
Yes, it is good to breathe the familiar air of Middle-earth, if only briefly. “How I miss these lands I labored so long to defend,” he thinks to himself.
The toiling of the pilgrims below goes on for some hours, for the Misty Mountains do not easily yield themselves to be conquered. And save for the gray cloaked ranger (without whose help it is doubtful they all would have made it), none possess the physical prowess to complete the journey on their own, though two, at times, resort to transforming themselves into goats.
Still, for the final push—up the Skywing Stairs, a near vertical ascent—all are forced to come on their own power.
A wizardly welcome
The tall gangly fellow with greenish-gray skin arrives first, huffing and puffing and shivering in the high, thin air. His high, pointed hat flaps precariously in the terrific winds roiling across the mountain’s summit.
“So here we are,” he says, dusting off his pants to little effect. “And what a dismal place it is. Why it’s nothing more than a bunch of rocks and twigs. Of course, the view is top shelf. That takes the sting out of it a bit, but it also makes one rather light in the head. And I fancy these winds might blow a fellow clean off the mountain. Well, if I fall all the way back down it will save time, I suppose.”
Gandalf approaches the reedy figure. “Puddleglum, we meet again. Welcome to the Winged Heights, a place no human—or marshwiggle—has ever seen.”
“And for good reason, I shouldn’t wonder. I would like to say ‘pleased to see you again, too,’ of course, only I’m not all that pleased.”
“Oh, dear, I should have thought you’d be glowing from your victory yesterday as the Most Faithful Friend, and now you’re summoned to perhaps receive a second silmaril in as many days. Does that not raise even your spirits, old friend?”
“Yes, well, that was an unexpected honor to be sure. And I’m very grateful mind you, never said I wasn’t, but ‘yesterday is moonshine,’ as they say and today I’ve got to face the fact that I’ve not one chance in six pence of winning this one. How many times do you think they’ll put me up for this award when we both know in our heart of hearts I’ll never win?”
“Well, I must confess the day you do shall be rather sad. It will mean we no longer have the occasion to meet at these ceremonies.”
“Oh, bother. Well, when you put that way…If you’ll promise no more mountain climbing in the future I’ll try to put a bold face on it when I lose.”
“All a wizard can promise is to be interesting.”
Puddleglum harrumphs, but is afforded little time to dwell on his pending misfortunes, for an elegant lady with hair white as snow and a dress black as night steps onto the mountaintop. He bows so low to her that his hat falls off and he breaks into a graceless run, chasing after it in the wind.
Of marshwiggles and winds
“Queen Irene,” Gandalf says.
She regards him with a smile, half on, half off. “Yes, that is my name, isn’t it?”
“It is what I shall call you today. For counsel may be given under any name, and your counsel has proved wise and true for many children, of whom your granddaughter was but the first.”
“Yes. It is wondrous what can happen when a child listens to her grandparents. And when other children listen to those children. It’s a kind of magic, really. The same way others are listening to us now.”
“The best kind of magic,” Gandalf says.
Puddleglum returns, hat restored to his head, and one hand holding onto it to ensure it stays that way.
“My Lady, I thank you for your patience on the long climb,” the marshwiggle says. “Your counsel and goodwill kept me going through the doldrums. Though I imagine they’ll be twice as drum on the way down. ‘Going’s half the journey,’ they say. And the better half if you ask me. I’ve no doubt we’ll get lost on the way back. It’s to be expected, really.”
“Do not fret, my friend,” Irene says. “I left a thread for us to follow. If you keep hold of it, it shall bring you to where you must go without fail.”
Puddleglum stares down after the thread, but failing to find it and growing rather dizzy, soon gives up the search.
Another lady lifts herself onto the mountain amidst Puddlelglum’s confusion. The well-mannered marshwiggle remembers himself and offers another sincere bow. But, forgetting to hold onto his hat, he loses it again to the unforgiving wind. He dashes off as before, waving his arms and bemoaning his “awful luck”.
“Greetings, Gandalf,” says the lady with a curtsy.
“Well met, Beana, these meetings are becoming like a gathering of old friends.”
Beana stares off after the windwmilling Puddleglum in his quest to recover his lost hat. “I hope you won’t think ill of me if I say that a race of marshwiggles would be the most delightful thing,”
“I quite agree.” Gandalf and the two ladies share mirthful glances. “Though it had best not be on a mountain top. I wouldn’t want to lose any of the dear souls.”
A magical meeting
“I watched your progress with great interest,” Gandalf continues, eyeing Beana. “I daresay you made a new friend on your journey.”
“Yes,” Beana says. “The wizard and I both have a talent for turning ourselves into goats, it would seem. Most useful when climbing mountains such as these.”
Unlike the two ladies before him, the next figure to arrive does so amidst red-faced straining and vociferous complaining.
“Oh, good heavens,” he says after quitting the last stair. His gray robes flit in the wind, along with his great beard, as he pauses to catch his breath. “This had better be worth it. Every time I leave the kingdom for half an hour, Arthur turns it to shambles.”
“Merlin, I presume?” Gandalf says.
Merlin stifles a grumble, nods, and disappears in a puff of smoke. In his place sits a particularly giant toad. The animal gives a dissatisfied croak and, in another puff of smoke, vanishes to be replaced by the wizard once more.
“Is that proof enough for you? None of the false Merlin’s can turn into a toad,” Merlin says, but then mutters under his breath, “at least as far as I know…”
Puddleglum returns again, hat in hand, and out of breath. “Ah…Merlin…so pleased you could…make it.” This time he only gives the slightest of bows and yet, as he goes to put his hat back on, it has mysteriously vanished.
“By the Lion’s Mane, I know I had it in my hands, didn’t I Gandalf?”
Gandalf, eyes dancing, replies, “Perhaps you had better ask Merlin.”
“Merlin? Why would he—oh, I see how it is.” Puddleglum shakes his head at the gray-robed wizard who is now sporting Puddleglum’s hat on his head. “That’s the trouble with you wizards and your magic, always meddling in other peoples’ affairs—and wardrobes!” The marshwiggle makes a show of indignation but has a sort of gurgly laugh at the joke as the hat is returned.
The ranger makes five
Finally, the last traveler appears. Wrapped in a weather-stained cloak, he boughs stiffly to Gandalf.
“Well, we made it, and all in one piece, though later than I’d hoped. There is a reason marshes do not grow on mountains, it would seem,” he says, casting his dark, unfathomable gaze at the others, Puddleglum in particular.
“We meet again, Halt O’Carrick,” Gandalf says.
Puddleglum sweeps off his hat for a final bow, but Halt stays him with a rise of the hand.
“No need, marshwiggle. I would not see your wide-brimmed woes continue.”
“You heard about my hat?”
“Sound carries well in these heights. Half the mountain likely knows of your troubles.”
“Oh, dear, there aren’t any giants in these mountains, are there? I shouldn’t like them to know we’re here. I’ve had awful luck with giants, though I can’t say I didn’t deserve it.” Puddlelgum’s complexion turns an even more sickly shade than usual.
“Never fear, my friend,” Gandalf says. “Even if there were any, giants are far too lazy to make the journey to this place. On the way down is another matter, but we can discuss that later.”
A wizard never forgets…usually
“Yes, well,” Gandalf says, leaning upon his staff. “The hour grows late and I know you have apprentices and wards who need guiding. Shall we begin, then?”
The attention of all turns to the stately wizard.
“Strangers from distant lands, friends of old. You have been summoned here for your great renown as counselors and wisdom-givers among your own respective realms.
“I apologize for the lack of decor, but the tops of mountains are not known for their comfort. These are the Winged Heights, known only to the farsighted and the fortunate. From here trouble may be seen from far off and help given to those in need.
“I thought it a fitting place, for counselors often see trouble before it comes and their vision runs far beyond that of those they have chosen to teach or protect.
“Furthermore, and more to our purposes here, this is a place from which those beyond the world’s ending can witness the bestowal of the silmaril I have come to grant.”
Light sparks in the eyes of several of those gathered. Only Puddleglum remains somber and, to be quite honest, rather down-hearted. For he knows with the certainty of his marshwiggle sense that he does not measure up to the others.
Gandalf pulls out a scroll made of fresh vellum from the satchel at his waist. With a flick of his wrist, he unfurls it, though he has a fair struggle keeping it open on the windy peak while cradling his staff in the crook of his arm.
“And so it is with great pleasure that I announce the winner of this year’s silmaril for Wisest Counselor…Halt the Ranger.”
The others offer sincere applause and Halt sweeps his cloak aside and bows before the White Wizard. Yet he rises with a bemused look about him.
“Forgive me, Gandalf, but I have attended these ceremonies in the past, and is there not usually an actual silmaril given to the winner?”
“Yes, Gandalf,” Merlin says. “You did not imagine I hauled these old bones up this mountainside for your convenience only, pleased though I am to meet you.”
“We should very much delight to look upon the fabled light of the Valar, ere we depart,” says the lady Irene.
“I for one imagine I don’t deserve to see it,” says Puddleglum, who was not having the greatest success at “putting a bold face on it” despite his best intentions.
“You haven’t forgotten it, have you?” Beana asks, with a look of concern.
Gandalf stows away the scroll and makes as if he was only half-listening. “Oh, what’s that you say? The silmaril? Ah, well, perhaps you are not as farsighted as I imagined.”
Gandalf turns pointedly and stares off through the clouds in the direction of the pinpoint sun. It takes some time to see, but most agreed afterward that Halt was the first to see it. A tiny prick of light separates from the sun and descends through the clouds, its light unwavering despite the reams of muslin giants that seek to conceal it.
As the light blooms brighter and brighter, it comes down upon a rush of wind and wings and, wonder of wonders, the silmaril alights among them, dangling on a ribbon from the beak of a great eagle, its head high and regal, its wings majestic beyond words. However, even the splendor of the eagle pales in comparison to the golden light streaming from the ancient stone. And for long moments the counselors, for all they have seen, and though some have seen it before, are held captive in the unspeakable beauty of this singular creation.
After they have basked in the blessed light a good long while, it is Merlin who breaks the silence.
“I see how it is,” he says. “You’ve got these eagles at your beck and call. You didn’t climb up here like the rest of us and I’ve no doubt you’ll avail yourself of this bird to return home.”
Here Gandalf straightens himself to his full height. “My dear Merlin, this is no mere ‘bird’. This is Gwahir is the Windlord. One does not simply call the eagles for any reason, you know. Gwahir is his own master. Some fancy him a carriage for hire, but he only involves himself when he chooses.” He adds hastily in a rapid mumble, “And yes, I shall in fact ride him back to the Undying Lands.”
Gandalf hurriedly collects the silmaril from the windlord, uncomfortable with the looks he is receiving from the others.
Halt stares in disbelief as the stone is placed around his neck.
“I am unworthy,” he says, for once looking unsure of himself.
“As are we all,” Gandalf says, recovering his sagely demeanor. “And because you know that, you are less unworthy than others.”
The others congratulate the stern-faced ranger, advising him on how best to use such a gift, as the wise are wont to do.
None are more hearty in their congratulations than, Puddleglum, though, who manages to put a bold face on it after all.
“You can’t win them all,” he says, “or really any of them if you’re a marshwiggle. But it’s just as well. Wouldn’t want things going to our heads now would we? A fellow must be sensible about such things, you see.”
All good things…
Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and with that, we must now bid good-bye to the inspired madness which has been the Silmaril Awards for 2020. Our contest will still run through Sunday, however, so you have one last chance to enter.
A huge, Middle-earth thank you to all who nominated, voted, and came to the award ceremonies. These awards would be nothing without the enthusiastic participation of the small, but dedicated community that makes these awards possible each year.
May your life be filled with wonderful stories, characters, and adventures, both inside the pages and out.
Until next year, friend, namárië.