Radagast glanced around for Sméagol, but could not see him anywhere about. Perhaps he had gone to visit the backhouse, which had been set up far off in a wooded area on the edge of the fairground, and after all the ale he had drunk, it stood to reason. In which case Nildë must have gone with him. She also was nowhere to be seen. Rusco had tired of all the commotion and had flown up into a tree.
“How are you feeling now?” the Wizard asked Greenjade, who sat morosely clutching a glass of ginger water but not drinking it.
“I feel like I would leave this damned village and never look back,” he said with a little hiccup. “Perhaps we could set off in the morning?”
“I suppose we should, at that,” Radagast admitted with a sigh. “But I had hoped to stay here for a few days, to prepare ourselves for the journey. It will likely be our last chance to enjoy ourselves. However…”
He wondered if he had made a mistake. He had actually brought his charges here in the hope of humanizing them a little, by exposing them to simple folk gathered in joyous celebration of the year’s new birth. It seemed to be working…and yet, seeing them made unhappy had not been what he had in mind. Perhaps it would work for good in the long run, making of them more compassionate individuals. Then again, how much good could it do them if it were only showing them what they could never have for themselves?
And admittedly, he longed for the connection of humanity now himself. Birds and beasts were no longer enough for him.
“It has been long since I heard music, before coming here,” Radagast said thoughtfully, as he listened to the small band. “This is not the sort I fancy, but it is good to hear, just the same. It distracts me from the music of the Sea, which I have been hearing for many years now, and could not answer, and will not be able to answer for a long time yet. I suppose you know of the music of the Sea?”
Greenjade shook his head. “I have not heard it since I could remember, save for that of the Sirens,” he said. “You know it is they who make the music?”
“Aye,” Radagast said. “For a long while, the music of the Earth was all I heard. The songs of the forest, and the meadows, and the lakes and rivers, were what called to me, and I could not hear the calling of the waves. Yes, and I eventually forgot how to distinguish between the good Sirens and the bad ones, and so the earth-music lured me away. This music we hear now is earthy--it is the music of the Folk, the Second-born, issuing from the earth. I suppose you have never heard the singing of the Elves?”
“No, never,” Greenjade said. Radagast nodded wisely.
“It is of the Sea, and of the good Sirens,” he said. “I hope you will hear it by and by. Most of the Elves have left Middle-earth, but I know that a few have remained behind. So I have hope that eventually you will hear their singing. You will never be the same, once their music has entered your soul. I do not say that you will be the happier for it, not right away at least, but you will be the better. And that will bring you to the foot of the staircase of bliss.”
“Will it make me forget all that happened before I became mortal?” Greenjade asked. “I think if I could do that, I might be happy—just possibly. I do not think one can be good without being happy.”
“Nay, it will not,” Radagast said gently. “But perhaps it will enable you to seek the forgiveness of Ilúvatar, and to forgive yourself. And goodness begets happiness—not the other way around.”
“I’m still working on forgiving Ilúvatar for allowing me to be created in the first place,” Greenjade said with a bitter grin.
“Would you forget all?” Radagast asked. “The good as well as the bad? Have you no good memories?”
“If I had good memories, they would be drowned by the bad,” Greenjade said. “My earliest memory is of the first time my parents took me above the waves. It is an important rite for all sea-children. They brought me to some reefs and we sat perched upon them until nightfall, and I remember looking up at the sky and the sun and the clouds changing shape in the wind, and I saw my mother dance, clothed in a tiny garment that seemed composed of dewdrops, skipping from reef to reef as gracefully as a bird in flight, or a dolphin leaping through the surf, and the sun made of her hair a shower of gold. And then she sang, and I felt as though all the world belonged to me, and I wished to possess it all, and give her whatever she asked.”
He halted, and felt a strange sensation in his throat, and a peculiar wetness in his eyes. It was extremely bothersome, and he felt an urge once more to go off where others could not see.
But before he could take any such action, their conversation was interrupted by a piercing shriek, and a girl-child of about ten or eleven, with long golden curls, was seen dashing into the crowd, with her drawers about her knees, evidently, screaming and babbling that she had seen Gollum….
“Well, I never!” exclaimed Radagast, rising abruptly.
“Did yer see that?” Cal exclaimed, and once more he fell down on the ground, laughing so hard his freckled face grew scarlet and tears seeped from his eyes.
“I dunno, I…weren’t…lookin’,” his sister said as she fell to her knees, similarly convulsed, fairly rolling on the grass.
“I wisht I could of seed her face,” Cal gasped at Sméagol, “when yer done that spooky voice behind the backhouse when she was doin’ her business. Where’d yer larn that?”
“He done told yer, silly,” Maisy said between giggles, “he seen Gollum when he was a young ‘un. He come from the same place as Gollum did. All folks talks like that where he come from. Don’t they, Sméagol?”
Sméagol emerged from behind the backhouse, feeling as though he ought to be laughing as well, yet somehow, he could not.
Even though Floria was exactly the sort of child who had made his own life miserable when he was a little ‘un. And had gotten by with it, while he was the one who got punished for getting her back for the meanness she had inflicted on him, merely because she was a pretty child from a respectable family while he was quite the reverse.
So why didn’t he feel like laughing now?
Nildë’s eyes seemed full of reproach as she looked at him.
He told himself that no harm had been done and no one would connect him with the prank anyway...but Brown Master, he would know. Brown Master would be disappointed in him...perhaps even angry. Sméagol felt that he could bear anger more than disappointment.
He realized now that he wanted Brown Master to be pleased with him. Just as he had once wanted the Baggins to be pleased with him.
He had wanted to please Maisy, and to avenge Cal, and himself, of all that the Florias in their lives had done to them. But was it worth it now? Would Brown Master still want him with him? Or would he send him away? And where would he go? Back to the river, to the cave under the mountain, there to resume his former life?
He could not go back. There was no going back. He could not live out his life alone now, with no Precious, no friends, no Nildë, no Brown Master to look after him and ensure him a place in the Gardens by and by.
He would have to beg Brown Master’s forgiveness. But could he do that?
“Wot’s the matter?” he heard Maisy ask him. “Be ye sick?”
“No no no,” Sméagol murmured. “Not sick. But…”
“You ain’t a feelin’ bad about…’er?” Maisy said. Cal sat up then, sniffling, and wiped his eyes.
“Ah, don’t be feelin’ bad,” he said, swiping at his nose with the back of his hand. “She ain’t ‘urt none. She’ll go cryin’ to her mummy, like as not, an’ her mum will buy ’er some sweets or a new ’air ribbon an’ ever’thing ’ll be all ’umpty-dinky again with ’er. Folks won’t know ’twas you. We won’t tell, will we, Maisy?”
“Course not,” his sister said, making a crisscross motion across her bosom with a forefinger. “Cross me ’eart. We won’t tell.” She started giggling once more. “Did yer see ’er with her pants ’round her knees? I bet she wetted ’em. One time I wetted me pants arfter I et somethin’ that disagreed an’ got sick. She like to never let me ’ear the end on it.”
Sméagol wondered if they should go back to the festival yet. He didn’t feel much like it. He glanced around for the dog, and saw her look questioning at him.
“She et up all her woody flowerses,” he said with profound sadness to no one in particular. “All gone, gone. Poor doggie.”
Maisy stopped giggling then.
“I know where there’s more!” she said springing to her feet. “C’mon, foller me! Get yer bag.” She snatched up the empty sack lying on the ground and tossed it to Sméagol. “There’s be a piney woods out yander. ’Tain’t fur. C’mon!”
The fair-haired child was ushered away by her mother, who had roundly denounced the entire village for the fright and humiliation inflicted upon her daughter, and the crowd seemed to take her vituperations in their stride. Her husband, the mayor as it turned out, did not back up his wife’s comments, but he stood with a reproachful stare, patting the little girl’s yellow head as she sniffled and held to his hand.
“I feel as if I could eat a little something now,” Greenjade said after all the hubbub had died down. He still did not see Sméagol anywhere about, and he strongly suspected the fellow had something to do with the girl’s distress. Wonderful, just wonderful. The wretch was getting his fun by frightening children. “Have we aught left?”
Radagast inspected the basket.
“We’ve some bread and cheese and ham,” he said, “and the honey jar is half full. And there is a bit of lettuce and parsley. I could do with a bit myself. Wonder where Sméagol has gotten off to? I suppose he’s off playing with Nildë.”
Greenjade shrugged, in his old way. Nell was nowhere in sight. Likely she had gone off with Jemmy, who was also not to be seen. He cut a slice of bread, some cheese and ham, and ate it slowly. When a maiden came with a pitcher asking him if he would have ale, he nodded yes, drained the ginger water from his cup, and held it out to her. He felt like getting roaring drunk.
Presently some men came wheeling a wide platform into the midst of the festivities, while others moved tables out of their way. They positioned some large stone blocks in front of the wheels, while some others came with two little set of wooden steps, which they placed on either side of the platform.
“Looks like we’re in for a bit of drama,” Radagast noted. Greenjade barely heard him for watching some youngsters who had wandered along close by, looking on the preparations with interest.
“I was just thinking of my children,” he said. “Particularly the youngest…Rainbow. He reminded me of my youngest brother, Northlight, when he was small. He was scarcely out of babyhood when I saw him last. I wonder now…what he would think of me. I saw him…in the Gardens. Along with the rest. I wonder how it is that I should have seen them, when there were so many there. Did they know I was watching them? Did they remember me at all? Can you tell me?”
Radagast was taken aback. “I could not tell you that,” he said after a moment.
“Could not, or would not?” Greenjade said with lifted eyebrows.
“Could not,” the Wizard said. “I do not know all, I have told you. As for what goes on in the Gardens, I dare say you know more than I. You have had a glimpse, of which I never had. I am almost envious there. You will see them far sooner than I ever will.”
“If I see them at all,” Greenjade said gloomily. “You know…I was told that Garland was in the other place…where I was. I did not see her, and had no idea she was there. I was told that perhaps I could bring her out. I suppose I would have to be extra good, for that. Not that I wish her with me, but, well, because I would not have her suffer for all time. Thing is, I have the motivation, but not the desire. I would have her out of there, but would not do all it takes. How does one achieve the desire to be good, if one has it not already? It’s not so hard for you, for you were good to begin with, I am sure. How does this happen? Is one created good, or bad?”
“Neither,” Radagast said. “One is as an empty vessel, to be filled as one grows and goes through all the business of living. Or a garden plot, to be planted with beautiful and wholesome things. But sometimes the weeds have a way of springing in them whether one would have them or not, and need to be pulled and uprooted so that the good things can grow in them. If they are allowed to have their way, the weeds will choke out and take over the desired plants, and kill them altogether. Some may be strong enough to thrive in spite of the weeds, but these must be planted, attended to and helped to grow, while the weeds grow and flourish on their own.”
“Sometimes weeds are planted as well, yes?” Greenjade said.
“They can be…but mainly, they are allowed rather than sowed. They come as seeds on the air, and settle into the good ground as well as the bad, and flourish with no help from the gardener.”
“I see.” Greenjade looked thoughtfully into his glass.
Then someone mounted the stage, dressed in a most queer outfit, all white with large red-orange puffs up the front, and much too big for him. His face was painted white with a very wide red mouth, and black edging around the eyes, and he wore a long white cap that completely covered his hair. He looked strangely familiar. Then Greenjade recognized him as Jemmy, Nell’s soldier-cousin. He held a huge red flower that was obviously not real, and appeared to be looking for someone, as jaunty music played from unseen musicians. He went with exaggerated gestures to one side of the stage, then to the other, then to the rear, one hand held over his eyes. Then he went back to the center of the stage and opened a trap-door and stuck his head down into it. Then jumped back as a jet of water spurted up into his face. Everyone laughed as he backed up in exaggerated consternation, then shook himself violently like a wet dog several times.
Then a young lady in a green costume appeared, with a huge yellow flower on her head, and although she wore a green mask over her eyes, Greenjade had no trouble recognizing her as Nell. Her skirt was shorter than the one she had been wearing previously—just a little above her ankles, and she carried a long staff with the end in a curved hook. The white figure jumped wildly for joy at the sight of her, and dance music began to play. He made a very deep bow to her and presented the flower, and she sniffed it and then appeared to be swooning from its fragrance, rolling her eyes and staggering gracefully about. The audience laughed as she tucked it behind one ear and beamed upon the white fellow; then she took his hand and they began to dance.
Then another figure appeared from the rear of the stage. He was clad in a black and white tunic with a scarlet cape, a rakishly tilted hat, and a black mask and huge black mustaches curled at the ends. In his belt he wore a sword so long, it nearly dragged the ground. As he beheld the green-clad maiden, he stuck himself on the breast dramatically, knocking his mustache crooked, then he straightened it, grimacing, then struck himself again amid laughter from the audience, and resumed his gallant attitude, striding to one side of the stage and then the other, as the young lady eluded him in her dance. When the music finally ended, he leaped up in front of her and went down on one knee to her, whisking off the hat and holding it to his breast, once more knocking his mustache crooked. She straightened it for him this time, amid more laughter, then folded her arms and looked quizzically out at the audience, then at her white-clad swain, who looked beseechingly at her, then at the young dandy still kneeling to her. Then suddenly he pulled something out of his pocket—a very large club, it turned out, and he whacked the kneeling figure soundly with it. Obviously it was made of very soft stuff, for the young gallant seemed merely annoyed at his mustache being knocked awry once more, and this time the white suitor straightened it for him, then whacked him once more. The young lady took the crooked staff and thwapped the white fellow with it indignantly. The kneeling fellow laughed soundlessly, then sprang to his feet and whipped out his sword, once more knocking his mustache crooked, and both the young lady and the white fellow straightened it for him, then the two male figures began a fight, with club and sword, the young lady skipping around them whacking at them with her staff, striking coy attitudes at the audience with batting eyelashes and daintily sniffing at her giant flower.
Then a little figure entered, dressed as a sheep, and looked appealingly at the young lady. She bent down gracefully to pat it, and it looked much delighted at the attention. Graceful music began to play once more, and the shepherdess danced with the sheep while the two suitors continued their fight during which the mustache fell off altogether, and this time the “sheep” stopped, picked it up, and politely handed it to the motley rake, then resumed his dance with the shepherdess. It incited a great deal of laughter.
Greenjade was taken aback by the heartiness of the laughter, which seemed to have something at once congenial and exclusive in it. Once more he thought of his mother dancing in the reefs, although he did not know why he should have made any connection. He heard Radagast laughing quite loudly, wiping his eyes at one point, and for some reason he glanced toward the soldiers, who were quite convulsed. He wondered at their merriment, the bridge formed by laughter on which they now stood, connected once more with the folk they had defended only to be received by them with indifference and at times, hostility.
And Nell. To her soldiers, she exuded light and hope and renewal after a season of darkness, she was springtime personified. But what had Greenjade to do with her, he who had naught to do with seasons? Once more he was at a window, gazing into a Garden he had but the faintest hope of entering....
Then suddenly another little girl came running up through the crowd, this one with brown pigtails and a good many freckles, running straight to Radagast himself.
“Come quick!” she wailed clutching his arm in a painful grip. “Sméagol’s ’urted! I think ‘e might be killt!”