It was the longest night he had ever spent. Or so it seemed.
Greenjade was awakened by a horrific noise on his left side. He nearly jumped out of his skin, until he saw where the sound came from: Sméagol, lying about an arm’s length away from him, on his back, mouth wide open…still making that sound.
Greenjade picked up his bedding and moved to the other side of the clearing. He nearly tripped over Radagast, who lay with Nildë’s head on his belly. He remembered the sound of the jingle he had heard earlier, coming from the little bag hanging from his belt….
Nildë opened her eyes and looked up at Greenjade, who then turned away and dropped his bedding a few feet away and tried once more to sleep, after doing what the Wizard quaintly called “seeing a man about a horse.” He locked his hands behind his head, which was pillowed on a pile of dead leaves, and looked up at the stars, which were very clear and big and bright in a black sky above, thinking of what he had said about seeking The Truth.
How do you define the Truth, my lad?
I don’t know why I said that. I only know that all the knowledge I acquired in that other life was a lie, and I wish no more of it. I already know the Truth, in fact.
And what would that be?
That the one I followed is the father of lies.
He led me to believe I was destined for great things. When in reality, I was destined for The Shadow. All lies.
You may yet be destined for great things, my lad. You were released, after all. The first of your kind to be so. There was a reason for it.
What is that reason? Oh, I know. My stepfather wished to please my mother. Of course, if he wished to keep her with him, he had to do this thing for her. She would have settled for naught less. But why did she wish me released? I should think she would be pleased that I was there.
I think you know the answer to that already, Greenjade.
I suppose she thinks she failed me, or some such thing. Just as I failed in fulfilling my destiny, and I failed my mate and my children. We parted on bad terms, Garland and I. She came to hate me. She took another mate while I was gone. I could not please her, just as I could not please my mother. I brought her treasures of untold worth. I conquered and discovered and ruled, and she cared not. I chose her from the many, and sang her praises often, to no avail. So there you have it. I suppose we are all failures then. You are in good company.
The stars grew dimmer, and moving pictures came into his head. Strange things played out behind his unconscious eyelids. He saw ugly shapes, and accusing eyes, and the red juices of pierced children spilling on landish streets amid the shouts of men carrying spears and swords. He heard cries and raspy breathing, and questions that made no sense, but they were all put to him, asking him Why? Why? And a fair young female threw her arms about him, and put her lips to his face, but when she drew back again, her face was all green and full of maggots, and then there was That Place…he was there once more, awaiting the Spear, but feeling it not, and he saw other shades, moving slowly about, raising arms in wailing motions, and he heard their shrieks, but they seemed unaware of him. He heard his own shriek, long drawn-out utter despair, he had not been released after all, a cruel joke had been played upon him and he was here, still here, still here, where he would ever, ever be….
And suddenly he was looking at the stars once more, trembling in every limb, unable to move, and Sméagol was still snoring and Radagast was sitting up asking if he were all right, and it seemed there was a soft coppery glow about the Wizard….
“There is a village up ahead,” Radagast said after breakfast. “They are holding their annual celebration of springtime. There will be good food and drink and dancing and much revelry, and perhaps we can stay at the inn. It may be our one chance at such for a long, long time, so what say we go and avail ourselves of it?”
“Yes, yes, yes,” Sméagol sprang up in delight, startling Nildë. “We goes to Springfest, and has nice things.”
The bird, Rusco, flew up from the birch in which he had been roosting all night, and wheeled in circles over the dog, swooping down for a playful peck at the back of her neck. She barked and snapped at him, but he fluttered upward, twittering, and Radagast laughed aloud, saying that the finch was laughing. Sméagol seized a stick and threw it, saying, “Nice doggie go catches stick!” and she forgot about the bird and raced after it, and brought it back to him and dropped it at his feet. He jumped up and down flat-footed, laughing in delight, then picked it up and threw it again, and the dog once more bounded after it. Rusco got jealous and made a dive at Sméagol, who made a grab for him, then the bird flew up in a tree scolding while Nildë barked at him.
“Looks as though they’ve made friends,” Radagast said beaming at Greenjade, who did not smile back. The Wizard’s kindly face clouded then. “Are you all right, my friend? Do you wish to tell of your dream?”
“No,” Greenjade said curtly, reaching down to gather up his bedroll. “So that was a ‘dream’, was it? I have heard tell of them, but never had one of my own before. I hope I shall not have any more such. Or the coming of nightfall will be a thing to dread worse than this Mordor of yours.”
Radagast said they should reach the village by midday if they set out now and did not stop, and so they gathered up their things and started forth. It was a bright morning with a sky of exuberant blueness, piled with fluffy clouds of white and silver and tinges of blue and lavender, and a brisk little breeze whisked playfully about, flattening the grasses and rippling the leaves on the trees overhead. Birds called out all around, and Rusco answered, and perched on Radagast’s shoulder once more. The Wizard echoed many of the birdcalls himself, and some of the birds flew down all around his head, only to be driven off by the jealous Rusco. Sméagol laughed that high-pitched grating laugh of his, and Greenjade winced inwardly. The beauty of the morning held no charm for him, for he could not stop thinking of his nightmare. It seemed he was not quit of the Black Dungeon after all; some of it would stay with him even in the brightest of surroundings.
“So, tell me, my lad. You’ve been to Middle-earth before this?” Radagast’s voice startled him out of his gloomy musings. Sméagol bounded ahead of them, still frisking with the dog.
“Aye, but never so far inland,” Greenjade said. “I always kept near the coast, for the further inland I went, the more my powers diminished. And if I had gone where I could not go into the sea, I would have withered away, and become as a mortal, and died eventually. But that scarcely matters now, for I’ve no powers at all, and I am indeed a mortal, and will wither and die eventually. You’ll have to excuse me if that takes some getting used to, and have some patience with me. I’m supposed to be on good behavior now as well, and that will take even more getting used to. But it’s back to the Black Dungeon with me if I should lapse into my former ways. I still cannot take it in that my…stepfather…saw fit to get me released. You’ve met him, you say?”
“Aye, once,” Radagast said thoughtfully. “He and his friends stayed with me for one night on his homeward journey, after the Quest. Wonderful company they were. I am glad that Frodo was allowed to go into the West, for he was in a bad way when I met him. Indeed, I did not expect him to last much longer. I did what I could for him, but was only able to ease his pain for a while. But as I understand it now, he is healed, and blissfully happy. Samwise Gamgee told me much of it. He told me that Olórin, the one known here as Gandalf, is wed, as well. That I did not expect either. Yet, according to the Sea-Lord, it is true. I do not know if the Blue Wizards have married or not. I’ve not seen them in hundreds of years. Samwise and I are excellent friends now, although I do not get to see him so often. Both of us have an abiding love of growing things. He told me a strange thing: that Frodo was able to tell him of his life in the West through the glass the Lady Galadriel gave him on the Quest.”
“What does he tell him?” Greenjade asked, wishing the Wizard would keep to the subject and not go wandering off on other tangents. It was disconcerting, and Greenjade could not call him out on it, but only try to tolerate it.
“I know not the most of it,” Radagast said as a swallow dipped close to his ear. “As I said, I have not heard much from Samwise lately. Frodo tells him the everyday goings-on in his life, I’m sure, just as any close friend living in a faraway place would do in letters. I do know that he has wedded your mother, that he has adopted a young elf-lass as his daughter, and that your youngest brother, Northlight, is betrothed to this young lady, and will marry her when she comes of age. He—“
“What?? Northlight will marry…an elf?” Greenjade halted in his tracks, unconsciously jabbing his walking-stick into the ground.
“Aye, and I believe your sister Fairwind is to marry an elf also, if she hasn’t already done so. She will be first of her kind to wed an elf, or so I have been informed. Elves have been known to wed mortals, but sea-folk? Now, my friend Tom Bombadill did wed one of your kind, you know—although of the fresh-water sort, not a sea-maid. He and Goldberry have a little one now. He would be three years old, I believe. I’ve not seen him since he was newlyborn. I suppose I’ll not be seeing him again soon, more’s the pity.”
“This Samwise,” Greenjade said, deciding the way to pull the old man back from his wandering off was to simply remind him of the subject at hand, “does he live nearby? Will we be meeting him?”
“Alas, no,” Radagast sighed. “I doubt you will ever get to meet him, unless by some chance he is out traveling, and although he is a close friend of the King, that is extremely unlikely. Men are not allowed into the Shire, where he lives. I wish it were otherwise, for he could tell you far more of your stepfather than I could, and of your mother also. There is a book written by Frodo of the Quest, and copies are being made, but I have not managed to acquire one, although I hope to do so by and by.”
“He wrote a book? I did not know he could draw words. It was my understanding that a maker of poetry drew his story for him, and that a drama was made of it.”
“Of course he could write, and according to Samwise he is a fine poet himself, although unfortunately you’ll never see his work, as he did not start to write poetry in earnest until after he sailed. He was merely unable to bring himself to write his story all over again, having done so once. He left the account with Samwise, who sent it to the King to have it copied. Perhaps we can visit the King and you can see the Book then. I would very much like to meet him and his lady wife, and their young ones, whom I’ve yet to see, myself.”
“’Twould do me no good, since I cannot read,” Greenjade said, taking note of the way Sméagol halted his steps at the mention of the name “Samwise”, then after a few moments resumed playing with the dog, but some of the enthusiasm seemed to have departed from him. “When I was at my travels in my former life, Morgoth imparted to me the ability to understand other tongues, but not to read. He gave me the ability to feel pleasure also, but not pain. I became acquainted with that only after my death. And now…now I’ve been granted the ability for both. But I may not know the joys of the flesh now. That has been forbidden me. I may never know the delight of clasping a fair wench in my arms and reveling in her sweet flesh, which I knew often in my former life.”
He sighed and shook his head, wondering why the Wizard’s face looked a trifle pink of a sudden.
“I…did not know these things…of you,” Radagast said after a moment.
“Aye,” Greenjade said looking off into the distance. “Many a lass I tumbled, in those days. A few males also, but I liked the females much better, even though they were more difficult to lure. With some, I had to but dangle a few pretties, or speak fair words, and I had them. However, I liked it better when they were more difficult, more resisting. I wished that I had the gift of drawing words, for I would have liked to keep a record of how many of them I had in that life, but I could not. Some were small and black-haired, with yellow skin and narrow eyes, and some were dark as loam, with very thick lips, and they wore naught more than copper jewels on their arms and ankles and ears. And still others were fair and tall, with yellow locks and blue eyes and white skin. None like my Garland, who was pale, with the silver locks and eyes of ice, and a personality to match. Of course I could scarcely feel her flesh at all. When I spoke to her of these females, asking her why she could not be more like them, she turned from me and came to hate me, I think. Even when I spoke fair words and showed her the pretty things I had gathered for her.”
He stopped, wondering why the Wizard was looking at him so strangely.
“You don’t fancy females then?” Greenjade said after a moment. “It’s all right if you don’t, of course. But you scarcely know what you miss. Males are far easier, but--”
“I do not fancy lads,” Radagast stammered, when he could gather his wits about him. “I would very much like to have a wife, but it will not be until I have earned my passage back to the West.”
“Have you never been with a female at all then?” Greenjade inquired. He saw Sméagol halt in his frolicking with Nildë, and slow his steps until the others were almost caught up with him, at which he looked back over his shoulder at them, rather fearfully, it seemed.
“I have,” Radagast said softly. “But it was a very long time ago, and she is long dead now. I would rather not discuss it.”
“Was she paid for?” Greenjade asked him…and there was no lechery in the question, only a childlike curiosity; he might just as well have inquired about a horse or cow.
“Of course not…a farm woman I met, and I came to heal her cow of a sickness that had befallen her. The weather was very bad, and I took shelter at her home for a few days, and…well, suffice it to say that things happened. She was very lonely, and we loved each other for a time, but then her husband, whom she supposed to have long been slain in battle, appeared unexpectedly, and I had to leave her then. I did not see her again after I left.”
“And there were none after her?” Greenjade said.
“What lady would wish an old man such as I appear?” Radagast tried to speak lightly. “The memory of her stayed with me for more than a hundred years. Now she is only that, a memory. A sweet memory, yes, but naught more than that. I know from Samwise that Olórin has married, and I hope to do so someday as well, but it will be a very long time. I can wait.”
“What of you, Sméagol?” Greenjade asked as he noticed the small fellow pretending not to listen to their conversation. “Have you ever loved a female? Or…”
“No no no no no,” the other one said shaking his curly head vigorously. “We never loved maidenses, never. No no no no no.”
“Never? Males then?” Greenjade raised amused eyebrows toward Radagast, who looked to be trying to find a way to change the subject.
“No no no no…no maleses neither,” Sméagol shook his head again. “Never, never.”
“What, never? You never had a lover, of any sort?”
“No no no no no no. Sméagol had no loverses. Nobody ever loved Sméagol. We was cast out, we was. All alone, all alone. Never to have wife, or family…all alone. There was only…”
“The Ring,” Radagast said very softly, almost to himself. “Poor Sméagol. It was all he ever had to love.”
“You could have a mate now, perhaps,” Greenjade said. “You’re not much to look at, to be sure, but I’ve seen far worse, who had mates and young also. You could have one yet, I should think. Or is it as with myself—you’ve been forbidden to have such?”
Sméagol looked at him uncomprehendingly. Greenjade felt a twinge of bitterness and jealousy. Evidently the other fellow had not been disbarred from seeking a mate.
“We never had maidenses,” Sméagol said and profound sorrow made him almost noble in appearance. “No maidenses, no friendses, no one to love us. Then we met Master…”
“My stepfather,” Greenjade said. “You were with him a long time, yes?”
“Master was good to us,” Sméagol said softly. “Master took the rope off us. Master called us by our name. Master fed us, looked after us…”
“And you betrayed him, didn’t you?” Greenjade said. They had stopped walking, and were standing there in the road, where Nildë had stopped to scratch herself. “You led him to the spider-monster to be eaten alive, is that true?”
“Yesss,” Sméagol murmured looking down at his feet for shame. “We betrayed Master. But we loved Master. We did what Master said. We catch fishes and rabbitses for him, we did. We wanted to be good, because Master was good to us. But Fat Hobbit spoiled all. He hated Sméagol. He…”
“Fat Hobbit?” Greenjade said.
“He means Samwise,” Radagast said. “How did he ‘spoil’ it for you, Sméagol?”
“We was climbing the Stairs,” Sméagol said, almost to himself, looking away at a low-flying hawk in the distance. “And there was Master all asleep, and we touches him, and wants to be good. And Fat Hobbit was asleep also, and he wakes up and sees us, and accuses us of ‘sneaking’. And we didn’t want to be good no more. It was Fat Hobbit’s fault, it was. But we loved Master. Even though he had our Preciousss. Master was going to throw it into the fire, but Sméagol stopped him. We got it from him and jumped in the fire ourselves….”
“Is that how it happened?” Radagast said, a bit sharply it seemed. Greenjade raised his eyebrows.
“Yesssss,” Sméagol hissed, a look of malevolence disfiguring his features so that both his listeners were taken aback. His eyes grew small and had the appearance of peeled grapes.
“We saved Master, we did. Master would have jumped in the fire with our Precious, but good Sméagol takes it, and jumps in with it. And we was in the fire for long, long time. Burning, burning, to save Master.”
“Hmmm,” Radagast said. Sméagol looked at him in snarling defiance.
“Why do I not believe you?” Greenjade glared back at him. “If you don’t tell the truth, you may well end up back in that fire, you lying wretch. Is that what you’re looking for?”
“Here, here,” Radagast put out both hands, although the two of them made no overt moves to throttle each other. “There’s a stream ahead of us, about a mile or so. I think we could all do with a bathe, before we reach the village.”
“Sméagol not lies,” the small fellow insisted, cowering a little under Greenjade’s accusing stare, but not backing down. “Sméagol not go back to the place of fire. Sméagol goes to Mordor…”
“Did he push you in?” Greenjade asked. “Is that what really happened?”
For some reason, he found himself hoping it wasn’t so.
“Of course it isn’t,” Radagast said. “If he had, I would have known of it. He told me what happened—that he was unable to let it go, and Sméagol got it from him by biting off his finger, and either fell in, which seems most likely, or else he jumped in. Frodo was missing a finger, and Samwise was distracted by his pain, so that neither of them saw exactly what happened, but it seems most likely that Sméagol lost his footing and fell in. Frodo blamed himself, as far as that went, for in his own words he ‘cursed’ Sméagol when he tried to get the Ring from him on the mountain. He—“
“Yes, yes,” Sméagol put in, “Master cursed us. Master made us fall in! Down, down, into the fire…”
“And he brought you out again,” Radagast reminded him. “But for him, you would be there still.”
“There was no fire when I was there,” Greenjade said after a pause. “Only…the spear.”
“There is no fire there at all, nor spears either,” Radagast said. “There is naught but what one brings into it. It is a place of memory, from which there is no escape. In life, one can escape one’s memories in one way or another, by acts of will. But in that place…it is a confrontation with nothingness, in which lies naught but sheer inescapable consciousness for all time. I wonder how Saruman is faring there...”
Greenjade and Sméagol both fell silent. Nildë looked back at them as if to ask why the delay.
“Let’s be on our way, shall we,” Radagast said a bit sadly. “We don’t want to miss the Springfest, do we?”
And Greenjade and Sméagol started after him as though walking through sludge, neither of them having the slightest recollection of what spring was.