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7
The World of Mortals


Greenjade looked at the revolting mess he had made. And retched and held to his head and belly.

“Great Lord Ulmo,” he gasped. And then heard steps. Radagast, of course.

“Are you all right?” he said, running over to the man who was doubled over on his knees, groaning. “Oh dear me. You are sick, I see. Here, come with me, let me get you to…”

“No no no no,” Greenjade stammered, shaking off the Wizard’s hand from his shoulder. “I…it’s all right. Just leave me for a bit. I’ll…I’ll be fine…I just…”

“Some of the meat may have been tainted,” Radagast said. “Here….”

Nildë came up sniffing, Sméagol close behind her, Nell and a few others peering anxiously around the tent corner.

“Leave me be,” Greenjade said, and was shocked at how feeble it sounded. Radagast pulled him forcibly to his feet, taking one of his arms and putting it over his shoulders, and holding Greenjade by his side.

“Come along now,” he said gently. “I’m taking you to that shady spot over there. This hot sun won’t do you any favors in your present state. Nell, could you bring us some cool water, if you please?”

“Aye, indeed!” she said flurrying off. Radagast told Smeagol to look after Nildë for a bit, then helped the sick man over to a small grove of trees a reasonable distance from the festivities.

“Now tell me you didn’t stage all that and stick your fingers down your throat to make yourself sick, just to get the attention of that girl,” the Wizard said in an undertone as he helped Greenjade sink to the ground. “No, I suppose not. How do you feel now?”

“I’m…better,” Greenjade said as the old man looked about for something to use as a pillow. He sat with his knees drawn up and his arms leaning on them, resting his head on his forearms. “It’s all right, you needn’t put yourself to so much trouble. So that’s being sick, is it? I shouldn’t care to try it again.”

“Perhaps you’ve had too much ale…although with so much in your stomach, it should not have had that effect. Do you feel as if you could go back to the inn?”

“I don’t wish to yet. I’ll be all right in a bit. I just need to…sit here for a few moments in the shade. I just…”

“Your natural color is coming back,” Radagast noted. “You even look a bit red now. I dare say you picked up a touch of sunburn on the way out here. We should see about getting you a wide-brimmed hat.”

Greenjade touched his face. It did feel a bit tight and sore.

“Well, I suppose I am officially human now,” he said trying to speak lightly. Radagast laughed a little.

“So you are,” he said. “Welcome to the world of mortals. And I must warn you: it gets harder.”

“Thank you for the warning,” Greenjade said dryly, wishing he could feel so amused. He felt as though he had swallowed a boulder, and there was a tightness in his throat. Even the sight of Nell coming their way with a pitcher and a cup did naught to help matters.

Now why did he have to go and speak his name? Everything would have been fine if he had just left well enough alone….

“How d’ye feel now?” Nell asked him as she dropped to her knees and poured some of the clear water from the pitcher into the cup and handed it to him. His hands shook a little as he took the cup. The water was cool and a bit spicy. “There’s a pinch o’ ginger in it,” she explained at his expression. “It might settle yer stomach.”

“Where did you come by ginger so quickly, my lass?” Radagast said. “That was good thinking.”

“Granny give it to me,” she explained. “She keeps a goodly supply on hand at affairs such as this ‘un. I told her what happened, and she just give it to me.”

“Ah, Granny,” Radagast said in delight, “I remember her well. I must go and speak to her soon. I might wish to buy some herbs of her.”

“Granny ain’t me granny, for practically speakin’,” she explained to Greenjade. “Everyone just calls her that. She’s an old woman what has a most splendid herb garden, and is the best healer and midwife of the village.”

“Why didn’t she come out here?” Radagast asked.

“Cos she’s a sellin’ her remedies at her booth now,” Nell said, “and couldn’t be spared. She does so every spring. But I could bring ye over to ‘er.”

“Do you feel up to it?” the Wizard asked Greenjade.

“I feel better now,” Greenjade said. “A bit…shaky, but I think I can manage. I think I’d like to go back to the table now, if it’s all the same to you.”

He felt numb inside at the moment, and he hoped it would last, but he had a strong feeling it wouldn’t.

And then he looked up at Nell once more.

“More water?” she said. He held the cup to her and she poured water into it. He thought of the way her waist-length hair had bounced while she danced. And gleamed so flamingly in the sunlight. “So how long are ye stayin’ for, love?” she asked Radagast.

“Only for a few days,” the Wizard answered. “We are headed for Mordor, actually. To clean up the filth of Sauron and turn it into a habitable land once more…as it hasn’t been for over a thousand years.”

“Go on with ye!” she exclaimed with wide eyes. “Truly?”

“Truly,” Radagast laughed a little. “We’ve a long ways to go, I know. But going we are. I decided to stop here in order to partake of the Springfest, seeing as how it will probably be our last chance to have any such enjoyment. We’re staying at the Golden Ram.”

“For sure now?” she said. “Now why stay there when ye can stay at the Quail and Pheasant? That’s where I’m workin’ now, and a much better place it is.”

“I’m told that at the Golden Ram they water their wine,” Greenjade put in, noting at the same time that Nell had rather large hands, that were well shaped and strong, and the light speckling of her forearms was like to a sprinkling of sand on a conch’s rosy-white shell.

She laughed a little. “I’ve heard that ‘un, but won’t swear to it. So you are goin’ to heal Mordor then? That’s wonderful, that is! –although many here wouldn’t think so. I know not of many who’d take such a task upon theirselves. I wouldn’t wish to go to such a place meself. Well, maybe I’d go, if it wasn’t so far, and I understood the language an’ all. I wanted to go as a nurse durin’ the War, but I had me dad to care for, him bein’ sick an’ all. But--“

“You would go?” Greenjade raised his eyebrows. “Truly?”

“Well, I think not,” she said. “I still have me dad to look after. He’s got a serious heart complaint, and may not live long. I got four brothers, but they’re all married with families o’ their own. Now that mum’s gone, I’ve all he’s got to look after him. And then…”

“That fellow you were dancing with,” Greenjade said, “he’s not your sweetheart, I take it?”

“Ah, no,” she said with a little laugh, “he’s me cousin Jem. But I’ll wed him one a’ these days, like as not. I had a lover once, but he fell in battle, and I’ve not cared to have anyone else. But I might just as well marry Jemmy, for I’m fond of him, and he was me Harry’s best friend, and like as not, no one else ’ll have him. He saved many lives and was wounded in such a way that…he’ll not be able to have young ’uns. And likely he’ll not live long neither. And his mum is bad sick also, or we’d of been wed long afore this, had we not both had our elders to see to.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Greenjade, and to his amazement, he did feel truly sorry to know she had suffered. “But…you would want children, wouldn’t you?”

“Aye, I would,” she said a little sadly. “I’d take in a few, if’n it was possible. But what with things as they are, I reckon it won’t be. I’ve four older brothers, and they all have families. I come an’ help their wives out betimes when dad can spare me, and I get to see their young ’uns, and I fair dote on ’em. I’ll have to settle for that.”

Greenjade glanced aside at Jem. The fellow was nice to look at and appeared reasonably intelligent, but little more than that. She could do much better. And obviously there was good stock in her, that should be passed along to future generations.

Yesterday he would have felt scorn. This morning he would have, for that matter. But now he found himself filled with what he recognized as admiration, although he had never felt it toward anyone before…with the possible exception of Garland, and that was mostly for how she looked.

“What say we go on back,” Radagast said. “I dare say Nell’s employer will be missing her ere long, and we don’t want to get her into any trouble with him.”

“Ah, I kin get around ’im,” Nell laughed. “But aye, we should be gittin’ back. Kin you stand now?”

“Of course I can,” Greenjade said, rising to his feet. His legs felt a trifle wobbly, but he managed to stay upright. He wondered why he wasn’t happier, with the object of his desire right here by his side, looking to him…and not seeming at all unhappy with what she saw. Possibly she wouldn’t have looked twice at him if he hadn’t gone and gotten sick on her. Obviously the girl liked caring for folks.

But he wasn’t worthy of her. And even if he did go to Mordor and make himself so, he could scarcely expect her to wait for him, or go with him into a strange and ruined land and work with him by his side…even though she was obviously a young woman strong in both body and soul.

And there would be no taking her for just the one night now. He knew that. It was out of the question. Even if she would go for it, which of course she would not.

They were in sight of the festivities now, and a rather fat man wearing an apron was waving at her. Betony was not far behind, clutching her pitcher and looking a trifle sad.

“There ye are, Nellie-lass,” the fat man said as they approached. Greenjade saw Sméagol still near the soldiers, and three children were talking to him, one of them petting Nilde. “What gives? Am I payin’ ye to go runnin’ off and flirtin’ with strangers, hey?”

“Oh, go on with ye, Tam Goodfellow,” she laughed flipping a hand at him. “He took a bad turn, ask Radagast here if he didn’t, and I couldn’t go off and leave him to be sick all by hisself, could I now? A fine reflection on yer establishment that ’ud be, what?”

“Right ye are, missy,” Tam Goodfellow said with a little jerk of his jowly head, “this time. But don’t go makin’ a habit of it, ye hear me?”

“Right ye are,” she imitated him, with a little salute that she must have learned from her soldiers. Radagast laughed. “Well, here we are,” she said to him and Greenjade. “Now I must be getting’ back to work. And if you’d care to stay at the Quail and Pheasant, it’s up that road—“ She extended an arm with a pointed finger in the distance. “Stay on it, and ye’ll come to it directly.”

“Thank you, my dear,” he said. “Perhaps we shall avail ourselves of their services after tonight.”

“Tell ‘em Nell sent you,” she said with a little wink, “and then mayhap Tam Goodfellow will be so thankful for drummin’ him up some business, he’ll let me do as I like for the rest of the year. But now I must be getting’ back to work, much as ‘twould pleasure me to sit and chat and hear more about your plans.”

“Are you sure you are all right?” Radagast asked Greenjade as they took their places at their original table.

“Of course I’m sure,” Greenjade said, wondering how his voice sounded so hollow even to himself. It seemed to come from the other end of an endless tunnel.

~*~*~

“Can we pet yer dog?” a child’s voice asked as Sméagol carefully broke off the points of the wooden flower that was too spiny for Nildë to chew on. He looked up to see a very freckle-faced girl of about ten, together with a boy two or three years younger, that looked a good bit like her. He hesitated, being a little afraid of children. Nildë thumped her tail, however, and he nodded yes.

The little girl leaned over and patted Nildë’s head. She had short brown pigtails that curved in at her neck so that the ends pointed outward, and her front teeth were rather large, and something bulged from the pocket of her apron. The boy stood with his hands in his pockets, staring at Sméagol’s boots.

“Why’s your feets so big?” he asked. He had freckles and large teeth also.

“Shut yer ’ead, Cal,” the girl said. “Don’t mind ‘im,” she said to Sméagol. “’E’s me brother, and ever’ time ’e opens his mouth, out comes a new kind o’ sass. That’s wot me mum says, and she’s right. Wot’s yer dog’s name then?”

“Nildë,” Sméagol said shyly. It didn’t occur to him to tell her that she was Radagast’s dog and not his own.

“Wot sort o’ name’s that?” the girl said.

“Ermm…Elf name,” Sméagol said feeling glad of his boots now as he thought of the old seafarer, and what he had said about folks threatening their young ‘uns with Gollum if they didn’t behave.

“Is it now!” the girl exclaimed. “It’s a Elf-dog then?”

“Aye,” Sméagol said. The boy stood with his mouth wide open. “You know of elveses?”

“Nay,” the girl said stroking Nildë with more reverence. “Never seen none. Did you?”

“Aye,” Sméagol said, seeing his chance to impress them. “Lots of elveses, long time ago. They all go West, sailing in big, big boatses. Gone, gone, all to the west.”

“You talk funny,” Cal said. The girl hit him with the back of her hand. “Ow!” he said, and tried to hit her back, but she dodged him.

“Pay ‘im no mind,” she said to Sméagol. “Wot’s yer name?”

“Sméagol,” he said, then felt a twinge of fear. Should he have given his name? Would they know who he was? Brown Master said very few knew that Gollum had once been named Sméagol, and even those few who did know would not think him the same person. Just someone who happened to have the same name.

“Mine’s Maisy,” the girl said. “And that’s me brother Cal. I got me another brother too, but ‘e’s big. ‘E’s over there some’eres. You got any brothers?”

“No no no no no,” Sméagol felt a twinge of terror, thinking of Deagol. “No brotherses, no one…”

“Wot’s the matter?” Maisy frowned. “Ye seem affrighted.”

“No brotherses,” Sméagol repeated, digging a shaking hand into Nildë’s brown fur.

“Count yerself lucky,” Maisy said with a toss of her head. “You’re with that old chap wot’s got the bird, ain’t yer?”

“Aye,” Sméagol said, thinking of a time when he had first been banished. Young ones laughing at him, singing songs about him, throwing stones, in all the villages. Everywhere he went. Hundreds of years passing by, all the same.

“Dad bought me some sweets,” Maisy said pulling a little bag out of her apron pocket. “Want one?”

I want one,” Cal said, reaching a grubby hand for the sack. “Gimme!”

“Nay,” she snatched it from his reach, “you ‘ad your own, and you et ‘em all at oncet, ye little pig! Do yer fancy red or green or yeller ‘uns best?” she asked Sméagol.

“Red,” he said, although he really didn’t know. He could not remember the last time he had tasted sweets. She dug in the sack and handed him a little red ball. Cal once more tried to grab at it. She pushed him away roughly.

“I told yer no!” she said.

“Please!” he whined. “Gimme just one, Maisy, pleeeeeeease?”

“Oh, all right,” she said rolling up her eyes and digging in her bag. “But jist one, y’hear? And don’t arsk me fer no more, ‘cos yer won’t get none.”

Sméagol hesitantly put the red ball to his tongue, then put it in his mouth when the taste proved agreeable, both sweet and sour.

“Good, eh?” Maisy said, putting a green one into her own mouth. Sméagol nodded.

“Look wot I can do,” Cal said and he pushed his sweet into his left cheek so it made a very round bulge, then quickly transferred it into the right cheek, then back to the left.

“Well, ain’t you somethin’,” his sister said rolling her eyes once more, and Cal snickered.

Sméagol grinned then, ever so slightly. Then he tried the same trick himself. Cal giggled, then reached for the wooden flower. Sméagol snatched it away from him.

“Wot’s that fer?” Cal said.

“For her,” Sméagol said indicating Nildë. “She likes to chews them.”

“Oh,” Cal said.

“We got us a dog too,” Maisy said. “But ‘e’s a boy dog. ‘E’s named Tater, ‘cos he likes to eat ‘em. ‘E ain’t so pretty as your dog.”

“Tater,” Sméagol said almost to himself.

“Be ye a hobbit?” Maisy asked. “Yer shorter’n big folks, but ye don’t look like a young ‘un. I never seen a hobbit afore.”

“No no no no no,” Sméagol felt that spasm of fear once more. “Not hobbitses. No no no.”

“Wot’s a hobbit?” Cal asked.

“You know wot it is,” Maisy said. “It’s a little folk wot’s got hairy feets. You know the tale of the Ring, and all them hobbits wot throwed it in the fire-mountain, and the bad chap's tower fell down an’ all that. Remember? An’ Gollum an’ all? Bilbo Baggins, ‘member him? He got the ring from Gollum and it made ‘im invisible an’ all. My mum says she don’t think there’s nuthin’ in it an’ it’s all just a tall tale, but them soldiers there says it’s really so, and they should know, ‘cos they was there. You was just a babe then. I…wot’s the matter, Mister Sméagol? You look like yer takin’ sick or somethin’. Yer all in a sweat! Should I call me mum?”

“No no no no no no,” Sméagol murmured. “We’s all right. Not call nobody.”

“Looky,” Cal said pointing, “there’s Floria.”

Maisy and Sméagol looked in the direction he indicated. A few feet off stood a pretty little lass about Maisy’s age, with long yellow curls, wearing a dainty light blue dress and holding a doll that also had yellow curls. She gave them all a look of supercilious amusement, then giggled. Maisy stuck out her tongue at her, then Floria’s pink mouth dropped wide open, and she turned away with a little ladylike shudder.

“She lives down the road a piece from us,” Maisy explained to Sméagol. “’Er dad’s the mayor, and she never lets nobody forget it. Me mum makes me play with ’er sometimes, but I won’t do it, ’cos she always ’as to be the princess. She says I carn’t be, ’cos I’m too ugly. Do you think I’m ugly, then?”

“Aye,” Cal said, and she shoved him with her foot.

“Shut up,” she told him. “I didn’t arsk you, I arsked ’im.”

“Maisy not ugly,” Sméagol said in some surprise, looking keenly at her. “Do…do you think Sméagol is ugly?”

“Nay,” Maisy said with a bit of a smile. “I likes ’ow you look.”

Sméagol smiled back.

“I hate Floria,” Cal said scowling. “She told mum on me when I sung that song as Nic learnt me. I didn’t know ’twas a rude song, an’ I got a lickin’.”

“Nic’s our big brother,” Maisy explained. “You should of seen ’er. She goes all cryin’ to our mum, ‘Oh boo hoo hoooo, Cal’s singin’ a rude song in front o’ me, that’s so wrong, wot would me mum say, boo hooooo’, an’ then when she thought as nobody was lookin’, she larfed.”

“Bad girl.” Sméagol giggled at her imitation of Floria’s offended sensibilities.

“Aye,” Maisy said, “an’ when I told mum as she larfed, she smacked me an’ told me not to be tellin’ wicked lies of a sweet li’l thing like ’er. Ha!”

“Sméagol has idea,” he said, glancing back in Floria’s direction. The children pricked up their ears. And he told them, while Nildë chewed the wooden flower to pieces unnoticed before them and Greenjade gazed wistfully at a flame-haired maiden bearing a silver pitcher, who would never be his....





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