Between sobs Maisy managed to explain to Radagast and Greenjade what happened. They'd had to cross through a meadow to get to the piney woods, and between the woods and the meadow was a deep ravine. At one edge of the meadow was a long copse, and as they were crossing, a rabbit ran out of it and Nildë immediately began to chase it, and Sméagol took right after them, and since the ravine was partly hidden by some tall rushes and sunflowers, obviously Sméagol and Nildë didn't see it, and they fell right down the embankment. He hit his head on some big rocks and it was bleeding and it looked like his leg was broke too, he couldn't stand on it and it were hurtin' him somethin' awful. She'd bade her brother Cal stay with him, and Nildë had stayed also.
Greenjade barely understood a word, but Radagast seemed to grasp all, as did the soldiers, and Nell had come up from the stage, leaving the comedy unfinished.
"That little ladder in that shed yonder," she said to the soldiers, "we can use it for a stretcher. You three go on ahead to 'im," she told Radagast and Greenjade and Maisy, "and we'll foller after. I know the way. Me an' me brothers used to pick blackberries out there every year. 'Ere, you better take this to put over 'im," she said to Radagast, picking up his robe, which he had taken off and laid over a chair, it being too warm to wear.
"That's my smart lass," Radagast said with a little smile, taking the robe and his staff. He nodded to Greenjade and Maisy, then they broke into a run with Maisy leading the way, trying to explain that she didn't mean for Sméagol to come to any harm, she'd forgot the ditch was there and she'd hollered at him to watch out, but too late....
Sméagol was unconscious when they reached him, with blood on his face and in his hair, Cal looking most frightened. He was squatting beside the twisted small figure, anxiously patting Nildë, and when the others arrived he sprang to his feet saying, "'E's out agin! 'E ain't dead, is 'e? Mum 'll wear us out if we've killt 'im!"
Radagast climbed carefully down the embankment, clutching the robe under one harm, picking his way with his staff, while Greenjade followed close behind. He glanced behind to see Nell, still in her costume save for the mask and the silly flower hat, leading the soldiers carrying the ladder. Jem was one of them, having removed his hat and the baggy shirt, but he still bore the face paint. Along with the motley fellow, minus his mask and hat and sword and cape. A strange procession indeed.
Radagast knelt down beside Sméagol and the sniveling Cal, and pressed his fingertips to the side of the injured fellow's throat, then laid a hand upon his breast.
"He's alive yet," he told Cal and Maisy, who looked vastly relieved. "Greenjade, come press your hand to this gash on his head to staunch the bleeding, while I check him for broken bones. If he has any, it's better he doesn't awaken until I've immobilized them. You two might find me some long straight sticks to use, but take care. Don't fall...."
The children scrambled up the embankment, while Nildë stayed where she was, and Nell came running ahead of the soldiers bearing the ladder. Radagast felt Sméagol's arms and legs; when he came to the right one, he frowned and carefully pressed the ankle, at which Sméagol abruptly came to, with a loud cry of pain.
"Sméagol?" the Wizard called to him. "Can you hear me?"
"Hurtssss," Sméagol whimpered, trying to sit up. "We fell...leg...it hurts us...."
"Don't move," Radagast said. "I think your ankle is broken. And you've a cut on your head that's bleeding. Can you feel it?"
"Yes. Greenjade is keeping it from bleeding too much. Do you feel hurt anywhere else?"
Sméagol moaned. Radagast remembered the robe and covered him with it. When he tried to protest, the Wizard gently explained that the robe was to keep him from going into shock.
"Is your back or neck hurt?" he asked.
"Hurts us," moaned Sméagol. The soldiers had arrived with the ladder.
"Can we get him up the embankment on the ladder?" Nell asked.
"I think not," Jem said. "We'd spill 'im, like as not. Tell yer what, I'll take him on me back an' climb up, then we can immobilize 'im and put 'im on the stretcher. 'Ow will that be?"
"I suppose it will have to do," Radagast said, "if his back isn't broken. I'll splint his ankle and then you can carry him up, then we'll lay him on the ladder. Sméagol, is your back much hurt? Can you move your other foot?"
Sméagol, still whimpering with pain, moved his left foot. The children returned then with bundles of long sticks. Radagast felt inside of his robe and took out a small flask.
"Drink a bit of this, Sméagol my lad," he said uncorking it. "It's laudanum, and it will ease your pain for a while. A couple of swallows, that's it. No, Nildë, it's not for you, my lass. There now, that's enough. This will hurt, I fear. Bite down on this stick. Nell, can you hold his hands while I immobilize his ankle?"
Radagast carefully splinted up the hurt ankle, using the belt from his robe, while Greenjade continued to staunch the gash and Nell clutched Sméagol's wrists. Greenjade saw her grimace as Sméagol held her wrists in what must have been a nearly crushing grip, and found himself wishing he had volunteered for that job in her stead, and let her staunch the wound. But she did not cry out or complain, even when Sméagol fairly bit through the stick the Wizard had placed between his teeth. After the ankle was well splinted, Radagast and Greenjade helped him up on Jem's back and the soldier carefully climbed up the embankment where the others were waiting with the ladder, and they laid the injured fellow on it and covered him with the robe once more, while Nell tore a strip from one of her petticoats to use to bandage his head. Then she gently wiped the tears and sweat and blood from his face with the remainder of the strip, speaking to him as a mother might, caressing his bloodied hair.
Greenjade wished then that he were the injured one.
Radagast knelt to check Nildë’s front left paw which she was favoring, carefully feeling of it.
"Nothing broken here," he said softly. "I think she'll be all right with it after a day or two."
"Me an' Cal could carry 'er," Maisy offered. "I could take 'er front end and 'e could take 'er hind end. Or I could put 'er on me back like Jem. I’m strong enough."
"I doubt she would go for it, my dear," the Wizard said smiling. "Luckily for her, unlike poor Sméagol, she's got three other legs she can go on until the bad one heals up."
"Let's bring 'im to my 'ouse," Nell said to Radagast. "You can't stay at the Golden Ram now with 'im like this. There's plenty o' room and dad won't mind. We can keep 'im in me brothers' room for a bit, and Aunt Carrie can 'elp see to 'im when I'm at work. She's dad's sister, and she keeps 'ouse for us. How will that be?"
"It's most kind of you, my lass, to offer," Radagast said, while Greenjade scarcely knew whether to skewer himself or jump for joy as Jem had done on the stage, "but we don't wish to impose on your hospitality..."
"Not a bit of it," she said, and Greenjade noted the way her hair blazed in the late afternoon sunlight and streamed out on the breeze. How could he even think of taking her away from here to the wastes of Mordor? She was so in her element in this setting. "I'd be most pleased to 'ave you. There's two beds in me brothers' room, so the two of you can use it, and Radagast can take the room next to me dad, or 'e can stay with Sméagol and Greenjade can 'ave the little room. I'll ask Aunt Carrie to go change the bed linens and sweep up, and make things cosy."
"I'll pay you something for your trouble," Radagast said. "I--"
"Hark at you!" Nell said with a little mock swipe at him. "Am I runnin' a inn now? I think not! You’re me guests now, and that’s all about it. 'Ow do you feel now, Sméagol?"
"Pretty doggie," he spoke barely above a whisper, "she didn't...get...her...woody flowerses...."
"I'll get 'er some," Maisy said as Radagast stared at Sméagol in astonishment. "There's other piney trees 'sides them that's out yander. There might be some nigh to where we lives. We'll get 'er lots of 'em, and try to get ones that ain’t too prickledy."
Greenjade cast a glance at Jem, and saw the young man watching him with a touch of suspicion, with that strange face-paint that now gave him an eerie glow in the late sunlight. I could have trouble with that one, he thought. Of all the places for us to be put up! And no telling for how long now. Why in the name of Ulmo couldn't the wretch have been more careful?
One of the soldiers, the one with the missing leg, had a wheelchair, which he seldom used now, and he offered the loan of it. He'd brought it with him, in fact, more to please his mother than anything else, and had stowed it inside one of the tents. It was brought out, and Radagast gently placed Sméagol into it.
Maisy's mother gave them some jars of jam and jelly, which she had been selling in one of the booths, apologizing for the injury that had befallen Sméagol. There was both strawberry and blackberry.
"Might of known the two of yer would be gettin' up to some mischief," she said to Maisy and Cal. "Carn't turn me back on yer for two shakes, wot?"
"Ah, please don't blame them, madam," Radagast said in his most persuasive soft tones. "I know they meant no harm, and they were most helpful out there. You can be very proud of them. And this jam looks delicious. As jewels in the sun it looks, rubies and garnets. I can scarcely wait to try it. I had almost forgotten the taste of strawberries."
She looked mildly placated then, as Greenjade turned away to hide a grin. The old fellow could be quite smooth when he needed to be.
"Well, I can promise yer won't be disappointed in mine," she said with a little toss of her head. "This receet's bin in the fam'ly fer years."
Not to be outdone, several other women contributed some of their wares as well. Loaves of bread, cakes and pies, preserves, dried herbs and spices, sweets and little bags of tea. And a goodly bouquet of flowers, which was given Smeagol to hold. It would need a small cart to get it all to Nell's house.
Nell introduced them to three of her friends, whom Greenjade had seen earlier, and they gathered around to exclaim over Sméagol.
"This is Betony, this is Lu, and this is Viola," she said as each one dipped a curtsey and smiled in turn. Greenjade had nearly forgotten Betony, although it had not been many hours since he had last spoken to her. She smiled with shy recognition up at him, pinking a little. Lu was the tallest of the four, with long yellow hair in braids, and Viola was the smallest, with a mop of dark curls and red cheeks, and a figure that just verged on being too plump, along with a manner that more than verged on being flirtatious. They looked at Greenjade with admiration enough, then made much over Sméagol, chattering all at once, asking him what happened, if he was hurting any, and so on, and Viola teased him that he probably got hisself hurt a-purpose so's he wouldn't 'ave to leave the village so soon, now didn't 'e? Well! thought Greenjade. The fellow was in for plenty of petting, no doubt about that. And no doubt it was the first he had ever gotten.
Nell asked Mister Goodfellow for a few days' holiday so she could entertain her guests, and he grudgingly granted it to her. But it was plain to see she had him wrapped around her finger.
"I helped to bring his son into the world," she told Greenjade and Radagast as they made ready to move Smeagol to her house. "I weren't but about sixteen at the time, which was ten years ago. So I can get around him most of the time. I try not to take advantage, that wouldn't be right. I don't ask 'im for a holiday too many times. But this is a good time to do it, wouldn't yer say?"
Her dad was a carpenter by trade, she informed them as they lifted Smeagol onto Jem's wagon. He had been a very hard worker and had overdone it, and now it was telling on him. He had a heart complaint that would surely carry him off sooner or later, and he might live a good bit longer if he were to take it easier, but he was not the sort who could sit idle for long. So he did a good bit of wood-carving, along with small jobs like mending furniture and cabinets. But he really liked carving and had made many nice pieces, several which had sold for a fair price.
A man came up just then, with a face shaped much like hers, but his hair and beard were dark with a good bit of grey mixed in, his eyes blue-grey, his cheeks a bit sunken and pale. His once powerful figure was thin and stooped, and he used a stick to help himself along, but his face lit considerably at the sight of Nell. A rather handsome middle-aged woman came up behind him, with an embroidered white kerchief mostly covering her greying dark hair. She was clad in a light grey skirt and a vest of a darker shade, embroidered with pink and blue flowers, with a long-sleeved white blouse underneath.
"This is me dad," Nell introduced the man, "Bob Partridge, and this is me aunt Cariana--but we just calls 'er Aunt Carrie. Ye remember Radagast the Brown? He passed through here 'bout fifteen or sixteen year ago. This is 'is friends Greenjade and Smeagol. They're a goin' to Mordor to 'elp clean 'er up."
"Of course I remember Radagast," Mr. Partridge said as he and the Wizard grasped hands. "How could I forget?"
"I asked 'em to stop with us for a bit, and you wouldn't mind it," Nell said with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.
"Well, of course yer did," Mr. Partridge said twinkling right back at her. "So, why in thunder are we just standin' around workin' our jaws, 'stead of gettin' these gents sitivated? Come along with yer."
"Yer won't mind it, Aunt Carrie?" Nell said linking her arm in her aunt's. "I'll be home a good bit this week, so yer won't have so much to do. Yer can take a little holiday if yer likes. Radagast 'ere said he'd be willin' to do some o' the cookin', so's yer won't 'ave to put up with mine."
"Yer don't mean to stand there, you minx, and tell me I'd let a guest of ourn do our cookin' for us?" Aunt Carrie said lowering her rather thick eyebrows, that made her look more severe than she obviously was. "Of course I can cook, me fine miss. And it wouldn't do you no harm, neither, to use the time to learn a bit yerself."
"As yer wish, old dear," Nell said with a goodnatured grin, giving her aunt's waist a little squeeze. "So. Are we all ready to move in now?"