He had bathed in saltless water before, but not as a mortal. The coldness of the clear stream nearly shocked him out of his skin, which was doing strange things, as it was. Radagast warned him away from the quick and deep part of the water, saying that mortals did not swim as sea-folk, and he was likely to drown if he didn't take care. He had to chuckle when he saw Sméagol break off a leafy branch and hold it over his nether regions as he stepped down into the water. Probably the fool was remembering what Greenjade had said about his doings with males. As if he had the slightest attraction to that creature!
After he got used to the coolness of the water, he began finding it enjoyable, immersed up to his neck, feeling it glide gently over his skin like a female's silk scarf. The warm sunlight felt pleasant on his face also, and it looked lovely on the water, twinkling goldenly, as though stars had been sprinkled upon it, or flashing diamonds embroidered onto it, a silver-crystal coverlet in motion, with shades of green and brown swaying gently upon it, and patches of sky blue, and little pebbles of white and grey and light brown beneath. It would be a pleasant place to make one's home, he thought, watching the little fishes that flicked and whisked about the shallowness. Then he looked down at himself, at the black hairs that had somehow sprouted all over his arms and breast and other body parts, with some dismay. He had thought the hair ugly on mortals, and now it was upon himself. Bad enough it should be on his face, but one could cut that off. Some mortals did that. But this on the rest of him--it would take some doing to remove it. He plucked at a hair on his bosom, and succeeded in uprooting it, but it hurt, and the next one hurt just as much, and he plucked at one beneath his arm, and that was even worse.
Petulantly he looked over to Sméagol, who seemed to have forgotten his modesty and cast aside his branch, and, as it turned out, could swim like one of the fishes beneath him. Fancy that! How had he, who had not been born in the water, learned to do so? Now look at that--the wretch had no hair anywhere but on his head, and...his feet! It was preposterous. His feet were huge for the rest of him. Larger than Greenjade's, for that matter. He looked down to his own feet; yes, there were hairs on them too, but not nearly so thick and curly as that on the other's, and they were far shapelier...and yet useless in the water now. He looked over to Radagast, who stood waist deep and was rubbing something on himself, something white and foamy. And the dog was splashing about nearby, paddling herself along with her front feet, seemingly enjoying herself as Sméagol was. Hmm!
Greenjade recalled the previous evening, watching the Wizard comb the dog's thick, longish brown hair until it was smooth and shining, working a few prickly things he called burrs out of it, talking softly to her, calling her his lass and stroking her head. It was a wondrous thing to see, this fellow taking so much trouble for a beast who would not live nearly so long as he. And this care would not even earn him his way to the West. He did it because he wished to; it was that simple....And now he was rubbing some of the soap into her fur as well. She did not seem to like that so much, but he spoke soothing sounds as he worked it into her, which soon calmed her whimpering, and then bade her go dip herself into the water. She did so, then clambered up the bank and gave herself several vigorous shakes, which seemed to amuse Sméagol very much. The finch perched in a tree far above; obviously, he wasn't going to get a bath.
"Here," Radagast called to Greenjade, holding up a small flask which he tossed to him. It was the soap. Greenjade rubbed it on himself as instructed, and to his surprise, he found himself liking the smell and feel of it, although he was certain he would have enjoyed it far more if the water had been warmer.
At last they stepped out and dried themselves with their cloaks, donned their clothes once more, and set out. Greenjade hoped the village was not far, for he felt strongly the need to eat. Obviously Sméagol felt it also, for he talked of little else as they proceeded. He said the fishes in the stream were too small.
"I dare say," Radagast said, "that there will be cooked fishes at the festival. I'm sure you'll learn to like them cooked, by and by."
"Will there be many females there?" Greenjade asked before he could stop himself. The Wizard looked at him sharply.
"Greenjade," he said, "I think you could do with a bit of instruction in the ways of landfolk. First off, one does not refer to women and lasses as 'females'. That word is to be used only for animals, and it is considered highly offensive to folk of both sexes when used toward humans. If you refer to any woman or girl as a 'female', you may well find yourself in danger of losing some of your maleness."
"Why is that?" Greenjade frowned. "Why do they object to being called what they are?"
"You'll come to find that it is not always wise to call people what they are," the Wizard said with twinkling eyes. "So heed me well. You too, Sméagol. Older women you may refer to as, well, women, or wives, and address them as 'Mistress,' 'Dame' or 'Goodwife.' Younger ones who are not yet wedded are called 'maidens' and are addressed as 'Miss' and those not yet of age are 'lasses.' Those of high degree are generally referred to as 'ladies'--if you use that word toward these village and peasant women, they may laugh at you, but likely they will not take offense. You will likely hear serving women called 'wenches' but I would advise you not to use that word yourself. Many do not like it. 'Maid' is the better word for such."
"Fe--women are much complicated," Greenjade said shaking his head as they hiked down the road at a vigorous clip. "Myself, I do not mind in the slightest being called 'male'. I like being so. Do you not?"
"Yes, but it is as you say, women are more complicated," Radagast said. "Folk in general are difficult to understand, for that matter. Perhaps that's why I have always preferred the company of beasts. Oh, and another thing: you have expressed a liking for lads, which I would strongly advise you to keep to yourself. Such is very much frowned upon in Middle-earth, and you may get yourself run out of the village...at best."
"I don't care so much for them as all that," Greenjade said, mischievously looking to Sméagol, who seemed to be keeping very close to the Wizard. "They were out of curiosity, in the main. Not but that it was not pleasant, but a male body cannot begin to compare with that of a young female, her sweet curves and velvety, firm flesh, her abundant hair cascading like a falling stream of water, her soft ripe fruity lips, her voice, her eyes, her breasts, her--"
"Greenjade," the Wizard cleared his throat, holding up his free hand, "perhaps...it would be better to talk of other things."
"But I enjoy talking of...women," Greenjade said. "Is it so wrong? Did you not say you prefer them yourself?"
"Aye, I did. But...well. It is as if you persisted in talking of food to one who is hungry. Do you see what I mean?"
"Oh...well." Greenjade looked down at his feet. "I see. Very well then. But it seems to me you have gone 'hungry' for a very long time, when you could have taken your fill. So is it true then, and I am not to have aught to do with fe--women, at all? I do not see how I can do that. Why did the Valar see fit to endow me with the desire, if I am not allowed to appease it? Why did they not just take it from me, and make me as a gelded horse?"
"I do not know that, Greenjade. I do not know all. I do know that you were sent here for a purpose, to atone for your misdeeds by helping to purify a poisoned wasteland and make it to bloom again. Women would only prove a distraction to us. And using them to get rid of an urge is not a good thing. It is to consider them less than human, and would defeat our purpose. As a..."
"But what if they wish it? Every female I've lain with was more than willing for me to take her. Some of them positively threw themselves upon me. And I know how to make them like it. I was very good at luring them, and if you like, I can teach you. There are tricks to it, just as with hunting beasts, or catching fishes. I can--"
"Greenjade! Stop this at once!" the Wizard fairly barked at him, then halted in astonishment at himself. "I am sorry I lost control and shouted at you. But that is not for us, this--this dallying after females. We are not beasts, and we have work to do. And we must set our minds to the task ahead of us. Do you understand this?"
"I think so," Greenjade said looking at the ground and gripping his stick hard. "I have forfeited any right I have to the joys of the flesh. I understand that much. I am just wondering why I should have the desire, if I cannot fulfill it. It is part of my punishment, I suppose. It is preferable to being in that prison, certainly. But it is no kind of life for such as I."
"I am sorry, Greenjade, that it must be that way. But sometimes we must sublimate our own desires in the cause of others. Many have done so; I am sure we can also, if we set ourselves to it."
They walked along in silence for a few moments. Then Greenjade looked up at the Wizard once more.
"Radagast," he said, "is there something you can tell me?"
"And what would that be?"
"Can you tell me...." Greenjade cleared his throat, much in imitation of the Wizard, "well, in the stream back there, did you happen to notice...."
"Well...erm...have I hair on my back and arse? I could not see far enough back there to tell."
The Wizard looked at him in some consternation, then roared with laughter. Rusco flew up from his shoulder with a startled cheep. Sméagol looked uncomprehendingly at them both, then laughed also, and Nildë barked in a questioning manner. Greenjade felt his own face getting hot, and he jabbed his stick into the road ahead of him in monumental frustration.
"We’re almost there," Radagast said a little over an hour later. "I can hear the music, can you?"
Greenjade retained the same sullen silence he had been holding since the bath. The Wizard reached out and patted his shoulder.
"I’m sorry I laughed at you," he said. "But your question was so…so very unexpected. I’ve not been around any who kept me jumping so in a very long time. I was much dreading this journey; not so much now. As for your question...I did not notice whether you had hair back there or no. But what if you have? You would be as other men."
But I don't wish to be as other men, Greenjade thought, and he hoped the Wizard did not hear him.
"We can smell the foods,” Sméagol said in excitement. "Hungry we is. Let’s go now…."
Nildë came up to him just then with a wooden blossom in her mouth, of the sort Sméagol had been throwing for her to chase since they had passed through a grove of tall and fragrant trees of the sort with the rough skin and long thin leaves. Such blossoms lay strewn all about, and Sméagol would kick them high into the air for the dog to chase. As she dropped it at his feet, he stooped down to stroke her head and ears, saying, “Niiiiiice doggie. Pretty doggie likes Sméagol, yessss? Yessss, she likes us, yes?” Nildë licked his hand and looked up to him with her big soft brown eyes as he stroked her neck and shoulders.
Radagast smiled gently saying, "I think he’s found someone to love already."
Greenjade shrugged, and went on his way.
"This Springfest," he said after a while, "why do they have it?"
"Why, to celebrate the coming of Spring," Radagast said. "The awakening of Arda from her long winter slumber. I suppose you know naught of the changing of the seasons?"
"In the sea, the seasons do not change," Greenjade said nodding. "I know that in this land, it is different in various parts of the year. But I did not know that these differences were celebrated. Why is it so?"
"The changes are causes for joy," Radagast said. "In the spring, there is new life abounding. In winter, all is dead and frozen, no flowers bloom, no fruits grow, no creatures getting born. Then the thaw comes, and life comes up afresh. It creates great delight, and people wish to burst forth and laugh and sing and dance and eat and drink and...well, celebrate. New life is regarded as a blessing in Arda, and it is a natural thing in people to wish to celebrate their blessings. For life is hard, and one must work and sweat and bleed and dig and sow and plow and ache in order to make these blessings happen. When the crops have grown and are ready for harvest, then an even bigger celebration is held. And then there are the Midsummer and Yule celebrations also. Each season is celebrated, in its own way. Folks thrive on the changes, for which they have put forth so much effort."
Greenjade was silent once more, mulling over what the Wizard had said. Then he spoke: "So when we go to this Mordor...we will put forth the effort to make blessings happen, so that others might celebrate the coming of the seasons once more?"
"Yes. I very much hope we shall be able to do so." Radagast looked surprised.
"Why must we at all? There is plenty of land here, plenty of room for folk to live. We have come across a great deal of land upon which no one is living at all." He waved an arm out toward a hillside, upon which many white beasts stood eating the grass. Sheep, they were called, he remembered. Many large ones, and several little ones, some running and playing about, others staying close to the larger ones, feeding from them. But very few houses.
"Because if we do not, there are others who would claim it, and would put it to ill use," Radagast said. "We must make sure that good comes from it, and not evil. And there must be land for the beasts to live as well. Humans cannot hope to take it all for themselves."
"What of the fire-mountain?" Greenjade asked. "What if the fire should come from it again, and burn up everything we do, and it all goes for naught?"
"Mt. Doom was dormant for centuries until Sauron came to Mordor," Radagast said. "It has not erupted since his defeat. And the lava that poured forth has provided fertility, so that the ground will be rich for planting once more. It is extremely unlikely that it will erupt again. The Valar will keep it in its sleep; otherwise they would not have sent us forth into that land."
"And are we to be the only ones to work in the land--just the three of us?"
"No. The King will send others to help us. But we will lead them. I dare say some are already there."
"And we will be working and living there...until that one and I are dead...is it?"
"We will make a whole new land of it, Greenjade. We will plant trees, fields of grain, flowers, fruits, grasses, herbs, clover. We will pasture sheep, cattle, horses, goats, and we will cause streams to flow, lakes to form, and we will fill them with fishes. Perhaps...who knows, it may even be renamed for you. The land of Greenjade. How will that be?"
Greenjade thought this over, trying to picture in his mind the new land that would be named for him. Perhaps he would rule this land. Perhaps he could be a prince once more, even a king, of sorts. Perhaps he could take a mate here and his descendants would people this region and he would be long remembered...and his mother would regret her disbelief in him, and as for Garland....
Then again, likely neither of them would ever know. But still, the Land of Greenjade...yes, it did have a good sound, a fine ring to it. Indeed. He could have one of those huge houses with the towers and walls and pointed windows and bridges, the flags flying in the breeze...and yes, he could be good, he was sure. He could rule wisely, and do well, in this new land of springtime and renewal....
"Fair enough," he said with a little shrug.
An air of excitement pervaded the village. Some houses had wreaths of flowers hung on their doors. Horses had wreaths about their necks. Festively dressed women walked with little ones, carrying some of them and holding others by the hand, and Greenjade felt a sudden sharp ache inside. He could hear the music now. Very festive it sounded indeed, and Sméagol gave a little prance and jump, laughing a bit.
“Look at the peoples!” he exclaimed, seemingly to the dog, who had brought one of the wooden flowers with her, and was worrying it to pieces. Fortunately Sméagol had picked up several others for her to chew on when she had reduced that one to nothing. “So many!”
Then a fair maiden suddenly smiled at Greenjade. He gave her his most charming grin in return, and she came swiftly toward him. Ah! Perhaps this would be a good day after all…. He started to hold up a hand to her, but then she sailed right past him, into the arms of a fellow who came up from behind him!
“I’m hungry,” he said a moment later, a trifle sulkily.
“Perhaps we’d better inquire about lodgings before we head toward the festival,” Radagast said. “There may be many folks coming, and the sooner we procure a room, the better.”
Radagast made an inquiry of a man passing by, who looked at the three travelers with interest, then told them to follow the street on which they now stood until they passed the town square, take a left after the inn, and keep going, and there they would soon find themselves at the sign of the Golden Ram. Radagast thanked him and they were once more on their way.
“I have never stayed at an inn before,” Greenjade said. “What about you?” he asked Sméagol, who shook his head. “What is it like?”
“Like a room in a house, but there are many such. One gets a bed for the night, and can go into the common room to eat and drink with others, and--”
“Hold. A bed? Will there be enough beds for us all? We will not have to share…” Greenjade glanced toward Sméagol, who looked just as apprehensive.
“I do not know,” Radagast considered the question. “I shall have to make inquiries. It has been a very long while since I stayed in an inn myself, and then I was alone. Come along with me…”
They found themselves standing before the Golden Ram, which Greenjade recognized easily enough by the ram's head on the sign. He was startled at the sight of the black-haired male standing in the window looking out at them, who was dressed exactly like himself, and then there appeared another who looked exactly like Sméagol--even to the clothes! He jerked his head around to look at the smaller fellow, and he could have sworn that the man inside did exactly the same...and that the man bore an uncanny resemblance to his father somehow, save that his father had no face hair. It was most unnerving, and he was going to say something to Radagast, but the words did not come.
"This is sheep country, after all," the Wizard said nodding toward the sign. Neither of the others took in what he said, for watching the fellows in the window.
"Pardon me, please," said a pleasant voice behind them, and Greenjade turned sharply around to see another young female, this one with curling hair the color of leaves in the cooling of the year, cheeks like ripe apples, eyes the green of water in the deep part of the stream, and a sweet plump young figure encased in a blouse embroidered with flowers and leaves, and a skirt and apron likewise embellished, and she carried a large basket of real flowers over one arm that was bare to the elbow.
And Greenjade forgot all about the fellows in the window. But he was too busy trying to remember the right word to use to speak to her until she had passed.