V. Reflections and Visions
He nearly forgot the flame-haired maiden as he followed the Wizard into the inn, and saw that the man who had resembled his father and the one who looked like Sméagol had vanished. Then suddenly he laughed loudly. That man was himself!
"I've a reflection!" he shouted. Fortunately there were but a few people in the room, which was filled with long tables and small round tables. Radagast turned and gave him a tight-lipped grin, but did not assay to explain his behavior to the innkeeper, who was giving him a rather hostile stare. Greenjade tried to return the glare, but it did not seem to faze the man at all.
There were two beds per room, as it turned out. Radagast said that Greenjade and Sméagol might have the beds, and he would sleep in the stable with Nildë.
"Nay," Greenjade said, "you must take the other bed. I'll sleep in the stable. I do not think I can tolerate that one's sawing all night. I am a light sleeper."
He had thought to say, "You deserve the better bed; a knave such as I is not worthy of comfort," but somehow he knew that Radagast would not be fooled, and would suspect that Greenjade was up to something. Which, as a matter of fact, he was.
The room contained two washstands, one on each side, and there was what looked to be a small window above each, until once more Greenjade caught sight of his own face looking back from it! He went closer and peered into the glass, fascinated. He turned his face from side to side, touching various parts of it with his fingertips, caressing his short beard, running his fingers through his hair.
"The sea-folk do not reflect, do they?" Radagast said. Greenjade did not answer for gazing at himself. I am a most fair fellow, he thought. 'Tis true what I've been told. The females were not merely flattering me so I would make love to them.
He wondered what his stepfather would think of him.
Sméagol got curious also, set down his pack and bedroll and bag of wooden flowers on one of the beds, and pulled a chair over to the other washstand. Greenjade saw what he was about in his mirror, and he turned to look, wishing to see the other's reaction. Sméagol stood on the chair transfixed, and Greenjade thought perhaps he was disappointed in how he looked, but he did not seem so. Radagast's face was full of gentle wonder.
"He's not seen himself like that in over five hundred years," he said softly.
"You knew him then?" Greenjade asked.
"Nay. I never saw him until several years ago, and that was but once. You would scarcely know him for the same fellow, except at certain moments. Eru only knows what that cursed object wrought in him."
Greenjade considered this, and wondered how it would have been, had the Ring come to him instead.
"My stepfather," he said. "How did he look?"
"Frodo? Well--like a hobbit...but paler and thinner than most," Radagast looked taken aback. "With some flesh on him, he'd have been most fair to see. At times he had a soft shine to him, more like an elf. And eyes that were hard to forget."
"Naught like that one then?" Greenjade said indicating Sméagol, who was still rapt at the sight of himself, or at least was pretending to be. Greenjade was relieved at Radagast's description. He might have known his mother had better taste.
"Not in the slightest," Radagast shook his head sadly. Then he smiled a little, with lifted eyebrows: "And you might refer to him as 'Sméagol', you know, rather than 'that one'. He does have a name."
Greenjade shrugged. "And so my mother saved his life? My stepfather's, I mean."
"So I was told. I dare say I know no more of it than you. He fell from the ship, and your mother took the shape of a dolphin and pulled him up from the water. Then she fell in love with him, and the Sea-Lord arranged their wedding. He had her in mind for Frodo the whole time, and planned the whole escapade. And I do know she has been very happy with Frodo, and that he adores your brothers and sisters as his own."
"Do you think he'd have liked me?" Greenjade asked, then immediately regretted the question.
"I've no way of knowing," Radagast said honestly. "But I think he'd have brought out the good in you, judging from the things Samwise has told me."
Greenjade thought this over. Then slowly he turned back to the mirror. "How might I cut off this hair on my face? Many males do so, I know. One uses a sort of knife, yes?"
"A razor, which is like to a knife, but much sharper. But we have no such here, and the beard becomes you. Let's make ourselves presentable, and go down, shall we? My stomach is fairly roaring at me."
Sméagol looked apprehensive to be amid so many people. There were several musicians, dressed in very colorful clothing, standing beneath colored canopies playing some strange-looking contraptions, and many were dancing, some of them young and lithe, others older, some very fat, and there were some very odd-looking characters indeed, with colored faces, tossing several objects into the air and catching them as they fell, to the fascination and delight of some little ones. The smell of cooking meat and bread hung heavy in the air, and Sméagol seemed to forget his apprehension at the sight of several large hunks of meat turning on spits over fires. Nildë stood eagerly sniffing the air.
"Find us a place to sit," Radagast directed them, indicating a number of long tables and benches, at which many sat eating and drinking and watching the revelry, "whilste I go and fetch us something to fill our bellies."
Greenjade spotted a table immediately and strode forth to claim it, before a nice-looking couple and their two young ones could get to it. It had the remains of someone's repast upon it, which Greenjade carelessly swept to the ground with one hand. Nildë grabbed a bone that fell off and began chewing on it. Sméagol chuckled.
"Pretty doggie likes nice boneses," he said patting her head. Greenjade found himself hoping once more that the Wizard might teach him to talk properly.
And then he saw the flame-haired maiden.
She was with another female, both carrying large grey metal pitchers, and they were laughing about something, and both had flowers in their hair. The other wench was brown-haired, and not hard to look at, but the flame-haired girl was something else again. Not that she was so beautiful as all that--Garland was far fairer--but there was something about her that compelled his whole attention. She was as unlike to Garland as summer to winter, as flame to ice, as sunlight to moonglow...she was full of life, of warmth and blood and secret southern doings. A vision for the heart's keeping.
He would have her, he decided. Just this once. They were to have a feast the like of which they were not likely to enjoy for a good long time, if ever, Radagast had said; well, Greenjade would have a little feast of his own. He would have this damsel, and after that, he would be good. He could not go through his entire mortal life without ever once knowing the flesh of a female. He had to have that knowledge just once, to remember for all time, as the Wizard remembered his farm woman. Radagast needn't know of it; he would bring her to the stable, and then...well, he needed something to give her, he knew. She would not merely come at the calling of her name--which he did not even know yet.
"Pardon me," he said to a grey-haired man sitting at the table next to his, who had something in his mouth with smoke coming from it, "that young...maiden over there, with the hair of fire...do you know of her?"
"Ha! Not from around here, are yer?" the man chuckled. He was old yet as unlike to Radagast as could be imagined; bald on top, his grey beard cut short and grizzled, mixed with darker spots, his small faded eyes nearly disappearing into his crinkly red skin, a couple of warts on his cheek, and he smelled powerfully of some sort of liquor. He was a small man, but his belly bulged out far above his belt, and his sleeves were rolled up to his elbows, showing a picture of a ship on one of his forearms. "Her name's Frenella...but most just calls her Nell. Nell Partridge. She's a servin' wench at the Quail and Pheasant. Right fitten, eh?"
"Very fitting," Greenjade said, making a note of her name. Nell Partridge. Already he liked the sound of it. He glanced at Sméagol, who was watching the Wizard going about with a large basket. Then turned his eyes back to Nell.
"Got an eye fer the ladies, do yer?" the old man chuckled, showing yellowish and broken teeth, as he took the pipe from his mouth and winked one eye. "Well, me too, if'n the truth be's knowed, but I can't get by with it the same's a likely young feller like you kin, more's the pity! Aye, 'tis tough gittin' old. All I kin do now is look. But look I do. And that un, well, she's a right tasty treat ter the eyes, eh? Wouldn't mind a bit! But even if she was ter look me way, me wife wouldn't take it too kindly, and it's fer sure she'd hear of it, and she'd have me keelhauled and hung out ter dry. That's 'er, over there..." He jerked the stem of his pipe in the direction of a hugely fat woman who was stirring something in a pot. "Don't never git married, son. Ye'll regret it sure's a goose goes barefoot. You ever have ye a wife?"
"Aye," Greenjade murmured. "She's...long dead."
"Sorry ter hear it, me lad," said the old man. "I bet she was a fair 'un, eh? Comely young fellers like you al'ays pick sech. Now my Gert, she weren't no beauty even in her young days, but no more was I, and had to settle fer what I could git. And jist look at her now, eh? Three hunnerd fifty pounds an' countin', and a voice like ter a cat dropped on burnin' coals, when she gits a burr in her drawers. I got me a son, but he ain't good fer much. Drinks all the time, lazy, always askin' fer money fer some harebrained scheme or another. Can't hold down a job ter save his neck. Gettin' inter fights, and half the time not winnin' the half of 'em. And 'ere's 'e's all of thirty-three! Meself, I was sailin' the seas when I's 'is age, but ifn 'e was ever ter do so, he'd git seasick, most likely. 'E don't know a capstan from a yardarm, I'll warrant yer. Don't git married agin, is what I say. I see yer friend there is one a' the little folk, eh?"
He jerked his pipestem toward Sméagol, blowing a foul-smelling breath their way. Sméagol looked to him then.
"So it would seem," Greenjade said, wondering if all old men were naturally garrulous and inclined to go wandering off in all directions from the original subject.
"He ain't by ary chance that nine-fingered feller yer 'ear of, is 'e?" the old man said.
"You mean..." Greenjade was baffled, then it dawned on him to whom the old man was referring. He laughed a little. "I should say not!"
Sméagol looked uncomprehending, and Greenjade nudged him with his elbow.
"Sméagol, show him your hands," he said. "He thinks you are he of the Nine Fingers! Fancy that!"
He laughed uproariously. Sméagol looked confused and a bit frightened. The old man laughed also.
"Well, jis' thought I'd ask," he chuckled. "Yer 'ear tell of 'im? My niece's young 'uns talks of 'im sometimes. How he throwed the Ring inter the mountain an' stormed Sauron's tower, together with 'is esquire, an' all that. 'Tis their most fav'rite story. They fair pester her ter death fer it at bedtimes, and they play it in their yard betimes also. I don't reckon you've ever met 'im, eh?" He looked to Sméagol, who appeared a trifle pale.
"No no no no," he murmured, sliding about a foot away on the bench. "Never met him, never!"
"Well, 'tain't nuthin' ter be fearin', fer sure," said the old man crinkling his forehead in puzzlement so that his eyes all but disappeared under his beetling brows. "I jist thought, yer bein' of the little folk...well, of course I knowed 'tis a stretch, but I jist thought I'd ask anyways. 'Tis the only way yer likely to find out, eh? Now we're close ter hobbit country here, 'tis just north of us, though I ain't never laid eyes on one meself, save fer this un here. And when my nieces and son was young 'uns, their mums used ter tell 'em Gollum 'ud git 'em if they didn't behave theirselves. Ye ever hear tell of Gollum, eh? 'Course, I don't reckon there ever was any sich critter, but some folks used ter tell of 'im, how 'e'd ketch young 'uns when they bin naughty and eat 'em up. Snap snap snap!"
Sméagol was fairly trembling. "We never heard of no nasssty Gollumses, never," he said. The old man chuckled, then belched.
"Hmmmm," he said, "I've a notion they used ter frighten yer with tales of 'im when ye was a little un too, from the looks of yer. All right then, I won't talk of 'im no more. 'E's likely naught but a figger of the imagination nohows. Yer ever been ter sea?" he asked Greenjade, whose turn it was to be startled now.
"My home is the sea," he said before he could think.
"Is it now! Who'd yer sail with, eh?"
Greenjade was saved from having to answer by the appearance of Radagast, who carried the big basket and three large mugs in the other hand, and set them on the table. Nildë, who had been half-heartedly gnawing on a wooden flower, sprang up eagerly.
There were three loaves of bread in the basket, obviously fresh baked, and a ham, two roasted chickens, a small wheel of cheese, some ripe apples, a bundle of young green herbs, a small basket of red berries and a little pitcher of cream, a jar of honey and a ball of butter. Radagast cut a generous slice of the ham and gave it to Nildë, then sat down and handed out knives for cutting the bread. Greenjade found his mouth getting wet and had to swallow to keep from drooling. He even forgot the delectable Nell Partridge for a while as he spread a slice of bread with cheese and ham and butter, and took a leg of the roasted chicken and an apple. Radagast took no meat, but spread butter and cheese and honey on slices of bread and wolfed them down, along with the ale--for such was in the big mugs. He told the others to eat up, for this food would not keep long. Just save a bit for breakfast, he said with a wink. Sméagol fed scraps to Nildë from time to time, somewhat to Greenjade's surprise. He'd hold up a bit to her, making her stand on her hinder legs to get it, then laugh at the way she gulped it down. Then, perhaps as a reward, he'd hold the next tidbit down to her and let her eat it right out of his hand. Radagast fed bits of bread to Rusco also. The bird perched right on his wrist and eagerly pecked the bread right out of the Wizard's hand. A child at the next table watched in delight, pointing out to her parents, who told her not to stare, but looked on in wonder.
Radagast divided the strawberries up among them and poured the cream over all. Sméagol dived right in, but remembered to feed one to Nildë. Greenjade couldn't fancy them much, and he thought at first to give his portion to the Wizard and Sméagol, but had a second thought. Perhaps Nell liked them. He saw her dancing with a young male, obvious enjoyment on her face, and he felt a twinge of a feeling he recognized as jealousy. But he bided his time. He was much better looking than that young whelp, he assured himself, and he was surely a better dancer. He couldn't be much worse, at least. Perhaps he should ask her for a dance. But at the moment, he felt uncomfortably bloated from the feast, having devoured three slices of bread and ham and cheese and half the roasted chicken, along with an apple and a slice of bread and honey. He didn't feel very light on his feet, and he kept feeling the need to belch. He doubted that would go down well with her, and he'd end up being nearly as disgusting as the old sea-dog at the next table.
Perhaps he should arrange an accident of some sort....
"If you'll excuse me a moment," Radagast said after a while, "I would like to go and speak to those fellows over yonder." He jerked his grey head toward several men sitting together at a table. "They are former soldiers. Will the two of you come with me?"
"I think not," Greenjade said, looking where he indicated. There were about seven of them, and one appeared to lack a leg, another was short of an eye. He had seen them earlier, but not bestowed more than a glance upon them. "I'd not know what to say to them. You go ahead."
"You, Sméagol?" the Wizard said.
Sméagol looked toward the soldiers, then at Greenjade, then at Nilde. Then he stood up. "Sméagol goes."
Greenjade felt profoundly grateful to the soldiers.
Then a female voice asked, "More ale, good sirs?" and he jerked his head up to see the brown-haired maiden who had spoken with Nell, holding up the big pewter pitcher.
"None for me, thank you, my lass," Radagast said smiling. "I've had my fill, I think." And he and Sméagol turned to go, after Radagast gave Greenjade a warning look, with eyebrows raised.
"I'll have more, if you please," Greenjade said. She poured the amber liquid into his cup, with a slight flutter of her eyelashes, and a smile that bordered on flirtatious. Greenjade tried to think of a way to ask after Nell that wouldn't seem awkward. Then he raised his eyebrows quizzically to her and cocked his head to one side, pursing his lips somewhat.
"Something wrong, good sir?" she asked. Her eyes were a light brown, with flecks of gold in them, and her nose was straight and slender, with a light speckling across it, her mouth small and pink. Her hair was braided in front and drawn to the back where the braids were fastened in place with pink and blue and yellow flowers all about her head, and it hung down long and wavy in back...rather pretty really, but still, she wasn't Nell.
"No no no no," Greenjade assured her suavely. "I thought you looked familiar for a moment, but perhaps I was thinking of someone else. You're not familiar with the Quail and Pheasant, I suppose?"
"Why, I work there!" she said laughing in delight. "Ye know the place then?"
"Well, I may have passed it by," Greenjade hedged. "But...well...maybe I'm thinking of some other place. I'm new in town, you see, just passing through really, and, well..."
"Lookin' fer a place to stay?" the maiden said. "The Quail and Pheasant is a very nice inn, far nicer than that horrid Golden Ram, I should say. They water their wine, or so I've heard tell. D'yer know where the Quail an' Pheasant is?"
"I can't remember at the moment," Greenjade said.
"Well, 'tisn't far. 'Tis but--"
"'Ey there, Betony!" called the old seaman at the next table, holding up his glass. "'Ow's about a refill, me love?"
"I'll have to go and fetch some more," Betony said. "Me pitcher is near empty."
"Gimme what yer got left, me blossom," the old man said. "I kin see the bottom a' this glass, an' yer know that's ne'er a good thing."
She laughed, and dribbled the remaining contents of her pitcher into his mug saying, "There yer go then, ye daffy old rip," then looked over her shoulder at Greenjade.
And then he saw Nell go to the soldiers' table, and fill their glasses, and they all lit up considerably at the sight of her. As well they might.
"I think I'll go over there where my friends are," he said to Betony, "and talk to those...those soldiers. They've sacrificed so much of themselves for our freedom, it's the very least I can do, I'm sure."
"Why, of course, good sir," Betony said, looking disappointed.