I’m simply going to have to lay hands on some money, he thought as he walked out toward the soldiers’ table. But how?
“Ah, there you are, my friend,” Radagast said smiling as Greenjade approached. “So you decided to join us after all.”
He and Sméagol sat with the young soldiers, one of whom was dancing with Nell now. Obviously she was a great favorite with them, and at least two of them were quite infatuated with her. Nildë was napping at the Wizard’s feet, and there was no sign of Rusco, who was probably up in a tree, or hopping about on the ground pecking up bits of food.
“I was being selfish,” Greenjade said, and he saw from the Wizard’s grin that he was not in the least fooled by his little contrition pose, and had seen him look Nell’s way when she had been talking with the soldiers. Greenjade grinned back engagingly. There won’t be much putting anything over on this fellow, he thought. He’s not a fool all the time.
“This is Greenjade,” Radagast introduced him to each soldier by name. “And this is Cal, and Burman, and Ben, and Willy, and…”
Greenjade smiled broadly at each in turn, grasping each offered hand warmly and saying “I am honored to make your acquaintance” in a manner so charming and convincing that the Wizard looked surprised and pleased, and indeed, Greenjade was rather surprised at himself. He managed not even to glance sidelong at Nell dancing with the seventh of their group—who was the same one she had been dancing with earlier, he noted. He took a seat alongside of Smeagol, who seemed a little ill at ease.
“They are mercenaries who allied themselves with Gondor in the War,” Radagast explained to Greenjade. “There were originally about two hundred or so of them, but only about half of them returned. They were not heartily welcomed back, even though they played their part in the downfall of Sauron. Many people scoffed that they were only mercenaries, doing their part for pay, and did not realize just how much these young men gave of themselves to help bring about victory and allay an unthinkable threat.”
“How very strange,” Greenjade said awkwardly, looking over each of the young soldiers…who were all young, he could see, although they appeared older than they were. One wore a patch where his left eye had been. This one looked straight at Greenjade with his remaining eye, and the look was positively unnerving. He couldn’t have told why exactly. It was not as if he had never seen maimed or wounded men before. But there was something accusing about the look of that one eye, as if it knew, or suspected that he, Greenjade, was somehow complicit in his wounding.
He was shocked at himself, and wondered if this weren’t somehow the Wizard’s doing. He had even forgotten Nell, momentarily.
Until he heard several male voices shouting her name.
“Hi Nellie-lass!” one said nearby. “How’s about a song, me dove?”
She laughed and said, “Oh go on with ye! This ain’t The Quail and Pheasant, y’know! ‘Tis not the place for our songs.”
But they kept up their clamouring, and several fellows hustled her up to one of the tables, clearing it off for her and helping her to climb onto it. Greenjade could see her shapely ankles, and the many ruffles beneath her skirt.
“Very well then!” she said, “what’ll it be?”
“How’s about ‘The Lass that I Love’?” one shouted. She laughed at him.
“Hark at you, Toby Oddermilk!” she said. “There’s little ‘uns about, ye know!”
More laughter from the crowd. Then her eyes met Radagast’s, and a soft change came over her merry face. She smiled and her eyes twinkled gently. Greenjade looked to the Wizard. They knew each other then? Why hadn’t Radagast spoken to him of her?
Then she bent down to one of the musicians and whispered to him. A look of puzzlement shone from his thin little whiskered face as he glanced over at Radagast, then he grinned up at her and nodded.
“This un’s for Mister Radagast, a special guest of ours, our Bird-friend,” Nell said as she stood upon the table with her hands on her hips, looking the Wizard’s way. Rusco appeared then, almost miraculously, perching upon Radagast’s shoulder.
One of the other musicians said, “Which song is it then? I don’t be’s knowin’ of it.”
“Just listen to Ned there, and then follow along,” Nell said. Then the musician lifted his cittern and began to play, and she sang in a clear, strong, rather low-pitched voice:
Hi! says the blackbird, sitting on a chair,
Once I courted a lady fair;
She proved fickle and turned her back,
And ever since then I'm dressed in black.
Hi! says the blue-jay as she flew,
If I was a young man I'd have two;
If one proved fickle and chanced for to go,
I'd have a new string to my bow.
Hi! says the little leather-winged bat,
I will tell you the reason that,
The reason that I fly in the night
Is because I lost my heart's delight.
Hi! says the little mourning dove,
I'll tell you how to gain her love;
Court her night and court her day,
Never give her time to say "0 nay."
Hi! said the woodpecker sitting on a fence,
Once I courted a handsome wench;
She proved fickle and from me fled,
And ever since then my head's been red.
Hi! says the owl with eyes so big,
If I had a hen I'd feed like a pig;
But here I sit on a frozen stake,
Which causes my poor heart to ache.
Hi! says the swallow, sitting in a barn,
Courting, I think, is no harm.
I pick my wings and sit up straight
And hope every young man will choose him a mate.
Hi! says the robin, with a little squirm,
I wish I had a great, big worm;
I would fly away into my nest;
I have a wife I think is the best.
Several musicians took up the song at the second of third verse, and soon they were all playing, but not in such a way as to detract from the singer. Two instruments with strings, one of them played with a sawing bow, one held to the mouth and blown into, another tapped gently with the hands. Greenjade took his eyes away from her just long enough to glance about to see what effect she was having on the audience. Most looked straight at her smiling, but a few women—mostly older ones—pursed up their lips in seeming disapproval, and a young lass or two looked to each other as if to see how they should react. The soldiers looked only at her, and their faces softened to the sort of youthfulness they must have possessed once.
And Radagast was smiling almost wistfully. Greenjade barely glanced at Sméagol, who was now sitting on the grass behind them with Nildë’s head in his lap, breaking off the sharp points of a wooden flower with his fingernail. But on the fourth or fifth verse, Greenjade heard someone humming along with Nell, and he recognized the voice even though it was only a hum.
The song itself made little sense to Greenjade, but something about the way she sang it held him in a way he could not explain. It had been a very long time since he had heard music, actual music made by men, with instruments and singing, and for the first time he felt it sinking into him, introducing itself, welcoming him, in a sense, to the world of men and women and children and birds and beasts, of trees and flowers and crops and dancing, of bright air and haunted dusk, of love and death and longing and loss. Of beauty and exile and heroism and completeness, thwarted plans, hope, second chances, faith and burdens, of groping one’s way out of dark places, and all warm things that were only for others.
Hi! says the owl with eyes so big,
If I had a hen I'd feed like a pig;
But here I sit on a frozen stake,
Which causes my poor heart to ache.
And he wished he might cease this rumbling that was now shaking his insides, for something was coming to pass, and he was not at all sure he wished it to. I do not wish to be as other men, he had thought that morning. But that was before he had found himself in the midst of a celebration in which he had no part, would never truly have a part. Before he found himself on a frozen stake, where the music swirled about as an eddying stream below him, flowing with a merry trickle over mossy stones and fallen trees, heedless and constant and free in the sunlight….
And he found himself thinking of his children.
And he barely noticed when Nell concluded her song, dropped a little smiling curtsey, and stepped from the table as a musician reached up to take her hand to help her down, as a courtier might have helped a queen from her carriage. And all broke into hearty cheers and she kissed the tips of her own fingers and then flung out her hands beaming to the crowd.
Radagast was standing, his eyes glistening, clapping his hands together, and Sméagol stood also, and clapped, and Greenjade glanced at him, and to his surprise saw a tinge of profound sadness in his face which lent a peculiar poignant beauty to his plain features.
And for the first time Greenjade felt an unexpected sense of identification with the fellow, which was most unsettling.
After a moment, he remembered himself, and moved to the Wizard’s side saying in a low voice, “So you know her?”
“Somewhat,” Radagast said. “I met her once before, long ago, but she was only a little lass then. I am completely surprised that she remembers me. I did not recognize her when we saw her near the Golden Ram, until much later.”
Nell was now being embraced by three other maidens, one of whom was Betony. They spoke to her and she laughed and so did they. Greenjade could not hear their words, but he heard the sound of their laughter, and it was as the music of the waters, the water that would ever flow about him, yet never so much as cool his toes. Water he would step down into, and bathe himself, yet could not, for he would pollute the stream beyond all recognition. Water he would turn his back upon and leave far behind him, yet could not, somehow.
And now she had broken away from her friends and was running toward the soldiers, who were still standing, despite their handicaps, and Greenjade recognized the one with whom she had been dancing, a fair-haired fellow with serious grey eyes, who seemed to have all his parts still, and he was smiling in delight as she kissed his mouth with a loud smack. At which the others began clamoring for her to kiss them as well. And she laughed, and kissed each one’s cheek in turn, then turned to Radagast and threw impulsive arms about him.
“I never thought to see ye agin, Radagast!” she exclaimed. “What’s been goin’ on with ye?”
And before he could answer, her eyes met Greenjade’s.
“Why—hullo!” she said, her eyes glinting with recognition.
“Hullo,” Greenjade said with a grave inclination of his head, to try and disguise the fact that he was still rattled. “I believe I saw you earlier today?”
He carefully ignored the Wizard’s disapproving look, and Sméagol’s envious one.
Her eyes were as green as he remembered, the color of the stream in the deep and mossy part; her eyelashes were curly and tipped with copper, he noticed, and her eyebrows were nearly straight and had a coppery glint also. Her face was a bit square in the jaw, her mouth wide and firm and lovely, and there was a tiny dent in her chin and another in the tip of her nose, which verged on being too large, but was well shaped just the same. He could see she was older than he had thought at first—middle to late twenties, probably. Older than that Betony, who was likely not much more than twenty, if that much. Pretty wasn’t the word he would have put to her. Betony was pretty, if one cared for her sort. But Nell was handsome, comely, womanly, buxom, startling, a young queen in the making, perhaps. There was character in her face, and intelligence, and humor, and an interest in life and people. It was a face one could grow old with, and could bear much, and yet laugh and enjoy…it was a wife’s face, and a mother’s, without a doubt. How did it happen she was yet single? For she was, he could see that. Or was the fair-haired soldier her husband? Surely not, or the old seaman would have said so....
“Seems you did,” she said with a gay dimpling of the corners of her mouth, and he noticed curly tendrils of auburn hair clinging damply to her forehead, where a tiny blue vein was visible over the left temple. “Near the Golden Ram 't was? You’re with Radagast, I see.”
“Why, yes. He says he’s met you before, a long time ago, when you were but a little lass.”
“Oh, aye, yet I remember him well. How can I not?” She smiled at the Wizard most beguilingly. “He brought down the birds from the trees for me one day when I was feelin’ lowly. Swallows and bluebirds and larks and wrens and doves and who knows what all else, they all flew about him, swoopin’ and divin’ and singin’ fit to bust. It was a sight beyond compare, and to this day I can’t remember what it was that made me feel so blue in the first place. And as if that weren’t enough, next day he bade me walk with him into a wooded place, and he called out a full flock of partridges, pretty as you please, fluttering up all around. For that’s me name, Nell Partridge, ye see. I never seen the like of ‘im before, did you?”
“Can’t say as I did,” Greenjade said, glancing sidelong at Radagast, who was once more getting a red face. “But…where are my manners? My name is Greenjade.”
And yet another strange thing happened. He realized he had never spoken his name aloud before.
Greenjade. Not Darkfin. The name his father had given him.
Greenjade was what his mother had called him…when he was born, and he had not known it until after he was dead. His father had changed it, so that he would grow up to be fearsome. A leader, striking terror into the hearts of enemies…enemies they did not have. Enemies they would have, because of the fear.
As Darkfin, he had taken the form of a shark, with the intention of killing his stepfather, who had brought him from the Black Dungeon. Of killing his brothers and sisters. Of causing his mother to die of grief over their loss.
“Greenjade, that’s a splendid name,” Nell was saying with another charming little curtsey. “Be it your front name or your back name? I…pardon, is somethin’ wrong, sir?”
He had been destined for greatness, his father said. As Darkfin. No one could be destined for greatness as Greenjade…surely.
And he felt something cracking inside of him, something like a chasm widening, producing a small earthquake, or perhaps as a grey cloud spawning a thunderbolt, or maybe even the hatching of a giant egg…and all at the mere speaking, for the first time, of his true name.
Or was it his true name? Was Darkfin truly dead now…and reborn as Greenjade? Or would it be that simple, to activate his reincarnated self by the speaking of two syllables?
“You must excuse me a moment,” he managed to gasp. “I…think I may have had too much to eat...or drink. I must go off for a moment…”
And he turned and fled, and ran until he was behind one of the tents, on his knees, tossing up everything he had eaten…and then some.