As Nell's father went to fetch the wagon, Greenjade whispered to Radagast, "What are we going to tell them...about us?"
"We must go back to the Golden Ram and fetch our things," the Wizard replied, "and there we will discuss it."
The proprieter of the Golden Ram did not look happy when Radagast explained why they could not stay at the inn.
"I suppose you'll be wanting your money back then?" he said.
"Keep it," Radagast said cheerfully. "Buy something nice for your wife."
He didn't stay around to see the innkeeper's expression.
"People in small towns tend to be inquisitive," he said to Greenjade as they mounted the stairs out of the earshot of the man below, "and so, yes, we will have to come up with something to tell them. We should already have done so, but of course I did not figure to be staying for more than two or three days. We can tell them Sméagol is from the same region as 'Gollum'...it is true enough. But you, my friend, are a different matter. Have you any ideas?"
"We might tell them I am your son," Greenjade suggested, "by...maybe not," he said as he saw the Wizard's look. "Your cousin then?"
Radagast chuckled. "Perhaps," he said. "But from where?"
"Why, from the Sea, of course. From an island far off the coast. There are such; I have seen them, in my former life. I visited one of them, in fact. I doubt any here know much of them. We do not even have to say I am a relative of yours; just a chap you met on your travels, and persuaded to come to Mordor. Maybe we could tell them I am a criminal who spent some time in prison, and the conditions of my release were that I must go help clean up Mordor. It would be not far from the truth, and would perhaps make things more interesting."
Radagast laughed softly. "There you go again, my friend. Do you remember the name of the isle you visited?"
"Lossëtold, I think," Greenjade said.
"Lossëtold...I must remember that. I am sure I've encountered the name somewhere. But perhaps we had better leave off the part about the prison. We will incite enough curiosity as it is; I am sure it would make things a little safer for us if we were not too interesting," Radagast said with a wink.
The drive to Nell's house was very pleasant; it was good to get away from the noise and the crowd. No one asked of the origins of the travelers, and Greenjade was almost disappointed. Mr. Partridge, though a friendly and chatty fellow enough, evidently believed in minding his own business.
"A pity they didn't finish the play," he said as he slapped the reins down on the big draft horse's back. "I'd a' liked to see how it turned out."
"As if yer 'aven't seen it a hundred times afore," Nell laughed. A wonderful laugh she had too, no girlish giggle, but a beautiful big laugh that came from deep inside her.
"Aye, but it always ends differ'nt each year," her father said. "Just when yer think yer got it figgered out, they goes and changes it on yer."
"Makes yer wonder what the world is comin' to," Nell said archly, "don't it?"
"The birdie...it's comes back," Sméagol said as Rusco perched himself on the back of the wagon. Nildë lifted her head from Sméagol's lap and glanced toward the finch, then settled back down.
"He was feeling left out, I imagine," Radagast chuckled as the bird flew over and perched possessively on his shoulder once more.
The house was made of a sand-colored stone with a straw-thatched roof that had a rather perilous slope. There was a garden of very colorful flowers out front, and a large vegetable garden that could be seen in back, and many trees all around, birch, spruce, cedar, oak, and poplar mostly, along with a couple of apple and pear trees, with green fruits on them already. Other houses could be seen in the near distance. Greenjade had rather hoped there would be no close neighbors.
Radagast insisted on wheeling Sméagol inside. Fortunately their room was on the first story.
"This is where me youngest brothers use to sleep," Nell said as she led them in. It was a fairly spacious room with two beds on heavy frames, and a ladder on one wall between them. "That leads to the loft. Me oldest brothers used to sleep up there. When I was a lass, sometimes I'd sneak out of bed and we'd all go up there and have us a time, feastin' on nuts and dried fruits and apples or some such, tellin' stories 'round a candle or a rushlight. 'Twas a wonder we didn't burn the house down, the way we carried on. We'd try to see who could tell the scariest. Then Gil, that's me youngest brother, took to walkin' in his sleep betimes. Mum wouldn't let us tell scary tales after that, but of course, we did anyways."
"I think I could sleep up there, and Radagast could sleep in here," Greenjade said. "Surely that would work better."
"If yer like, but it's not such a comfortable place," Nell said. "There's baskets of nuts and dried fruits and strings of dried peppers and such, hangin' from the timbers. An' most likely, spiders and maybe mice. We've a pussy, but she don't like to get up in the loft."
"That means Nildë cannot stay indoors at night?" Radagast said.
"Oh, no. The pussy stays outdoors at night, mostly, and she’s got kits now, so she stays mostly in the stable with ’em. So Nildë may come in and keep our Sméagol company in his room, so long as she stays out of the pantry."
Sméagol looked vastly relieved.
Greenjade had been dreading the night. But he had not realized he was so exhausted. He felt stiff and sore and ready to drop any moment. When he told Radagast, the Wizard nodded knowingly.
"One's muscles tend to get so when they are not accustomed to being worked," he said. "And you've done a good bit of walking yesterday and today. The soreness will go away in time, when you've gotten a good bit of exercise in."
"I feel as if I could never walk another step," Greenjade complained, sitting down on the bed and pulling off his boots. "I can scarcely believe I've been mortal for less than two days. It feels more like a year. I think I could sleep on a slab of stone now."
"Take the bed then, and I'll take the loft," said Radagast. "I don't mind a few night creatures, I'm well used to them. I suppose we'll sleep in our underthings, since we've no nightclothes with us. We shall be fairly spoilt to death here, I fear. But we needn't be idle. There's plenty of work we can do to earn our keep. We can chop wood, haul water, work in the garden, clean the stable, fix things, and what not. It will do us good, I dare say."
"I have to wonder," Greenjade said, "why it is the Valar saw fit to place us in this part, rather than just plunking us down in Mordor and letting us get right to work."
"They had their reasons, I suppose," Radagast said. “Perhaps they wished us to get to know Middle-earth first."
"But why should we?" Greenjade said.
"I’m not certain," said the Wizard. "But I dare say the reason will be revealed to us in time. There are always reasons, and if we open ourselves to it, we can learn to divine those reasons for ourselves."
After a simple supper of ham and bean soup and good bread and cheese, Radagast helped Sméagol get undressed. Nell had told them there were nightshirts in one of her brothers' drawers that might fit him, and the Wizard helped him into it. Then Miss Carrie brought them cups of steaming tea she said would help them to sleep, and Radagast sprinkled some dark powder into them after she had gone out.
"This will help sweeten your dreams as well," he told his charges as he put a pillow under Sméagol's hurt ankle. Greenjade, instead of feeling suspicious as he normally would have, found himself smiling gratefully at the old fellow. He was so kind; what motivated him? Not fear, surely. What then? A way to find out would be to ask, but the question seemed rather silly and petty to him once it formed in his mind.
He stripped down to his underwear and lay down on the bed, which was surprisingly comfortable, and sipped his tea. It was sweet and spicy, and soon enough, he was feeling relaxed and a bit giddy. He glanced over at Sméagol, thinking of what he had said yesterday about what he wanted most. To sleep in a comfortable bed, with good food, and to go among folks who were not afraid of him and would not jeer or throw stones, dogs that would not bark, horses that would not shy at him. Well, here he was, for the time being. He'd had to go and break a leg to get his wish. But he had it, nevertheless, and after less than two days. Was he happy now?
But before Greenjade could even think of asking him, he found himself thinking of Nell instead. And before he knew it, he was fast asleep.
He was still stiff and achy in the morning, yet he felt peculiarly refreshed. There was a bowl of water on the chest of drawers, which Radagast explained was for washing his face and hands. There were a good many other things he had to explain, which he did with twinkling eyes, such as about the covered bowls beneath the beds, but finally Greenjade managed to make himself presentable, and he could smell something delicious permeating the house.
Radagast wheeled Sméagol into the kitchen where breakfast awaited. There was bread and butter and jam and honey, along with baked ham and bacon and sweet milk and hot tea. Miss Carrie asked them how they had slept. Nildë was allowed to sit under the table, and even Nell gave her a bit now and then, petted her and called her a sweet lass. Conversation was lighthearted on the whole, as Radagast explained their Mordor project in detail. Greenjade quickly learned the names of Nell's brothers: Ralf, Clark, Robin, and Gil, and their wives, Lila, Reena, Sally, and Jennie. Strange to say, Robin was the only one of the brothers with red hair, but his was so red, Nell said, that it made up for any lack in the others. Young uns used to call him "The Carrot" when he was a lad, and make jokes about calling out the fire brigade when he came into sight. Ralf was the smartest, she informed them; he could almost read, and do figuring in his head, and Clark was the handsomest by far, but they were all handsome, more or less. And Gil was the most mischievous, or was when he was little, and he had a lad now that was turning out to be just like him, so he was paying for his raisin', as Aunt Carrie would say. Ralf and Lila had four sons; Clark and Reena, one son and three daughters; Robin and Sallie had two daughters that were twins, and Gil and Jennie had one son and one daughter, and a little 'un on the way. Mr. Partridge beamed with delight as Nell described his grandchildren fondly, telling funny stories on some of them, and Miss Carrie looked rather wistful on the whole, even as she laughed. She had been married once, it turned out, but her husband was a no-good, and had left her after a year or so of marriage, and they'd had no children. And Mrs. Partridge had died of diphtheria when Nell was but twelve....
Just as they were finishing up breakfast, a knock came at the door. Nell jumped to answer and there stood two pretty little girls, about twelve years of age, and she embraced them and led them indoors to meet the guests.
"Looks like word's got about," Miss Carrie said in an undertone to Radagast and her brother. "We can expect a good many more visitors right directly."
"These are Robin's lasses, Gilda and Gwynlen," Nell said as she ushered the girls indoors. "They's twins, but as yer can see, they don't look it. Will ye'ns 'ave a bit of brekkie?"
"We've 'ad it," one of the girls said. "Mum said we wasn't to 'ave no more."
"Well then," Nell said, "what say yer all go out on the front porch, while me an' Aunt Carrie clear up, and we'll be out directly?"
Greenjade felt his heart constrict as they repaired to the porch, where Mr. Partridge took a rocker and the little girls sat on a swing that hung on chains from the roof. The twins both had hair of a ruddy tinge, but Gilda's was close to gold, while Gwynlen's was darker than her aunt's, almost a chestnut. Gilda had eyes of a striking light blue, very like Garland's, Greenjade noted, while Gwynlen's were brown with a greenish tinge in the sunlight. Gilda was taller by just an inch, with sharper features, a fairy-sprite of a lass, whereas Gwynlen was rather soft and rosy-cheeked, with light freckles and rounded features. Gilda wore a dress of a shade similar to her eyes, while her sister wore a soft red, and both had their hair tied back with ribbons.
"I have sisters that are twins also," Greenjade said almost before he could stop himself. "Yet they look alike."
"Do you now?" Gilda said with wide eyes. "It would be jolly to look alike. We could fool folks. And nobody ever believes we're twins. It's most provokin' sometimes," she pouted.
"There's boy twins somewhere that's alike, but they're old now," Gwynlen said. "They're twenty-two, and they don't dress the same no more, and one's married, so that's no good. How old's your sisters, then?"
"Why...about twenty...I think," Greenjade said almost wishing he had not brought up the subject. "I've not seen them in a very long time." And never will, he thought with a tightness in his throat. His enchanting little sisters, dancing on ice floes, diving from high cliffs, rejoicing in the fact that they knew what they looked like, for they were exactly like each other....
"Wot's their names?" Gilda asked.
"Ummm...Nightingale...and Gloryfall," Greenjade said. Once more, speaking names....
"Them's funny names," Gwynlen said thoughtfully twirling a lock of auburn hair around a finger. "But pretty. Wot land's they from? Mum says ye're from a differ'nt place, and that's why yer talks so funny."
"Lossëtold," Greenjade said after thinking a moment. "It's an island off the coast."
"Lossëtold?" Gilda said. "I ain't 'eard of it."
"Me neither," Gwynlen said.
"Not many have, it seems," Greenjade said with a faint smile at Radagast. "You might have your father show you a map sometime. You'll be sure to see it."
"Wot's a map?" Gilda said.
"It's a drawing of a land," her granddad put in. "I may 'ave one somewheres meself. I'd like to see where this Lossëtold is. And Mordor, and all the rest of it."
"Wot's Mordor?" Gwynlen asked.
"It's 'at place where the fire-mountain was," Gilda said.
"Oh, 'at's right," Gwynlen said brightening. "Wot's...Lossëtold like, then?"
"Very lovely," Greenjade said. "High mountains, very high, some with snowy peaks. Hence the name, which means 'snowy island.' There are waterfalls and bright blue lakes, and dark trees that grow so tall, they touch the clouds. And of course, the sea is all around."
"I never seen the sea," Gilda said. "Wot's it like?"
"Wet," Greenjade said, and was immediately shocked at himself; he'd never been the joker in any wise. He was even more astonished at the laughter his answer provoked.
"I mean, wot's it LIKE?" Gilda said. Gwynlen giggled.
"He done told yer, silly," she said. "It's WET. Yer know?"
"It's vast," Greenjade said. "It's...."
"Wot's vast?" Gilda asked.
"Huge," Greenjade said. "And full of waves that roll and sway, sometimes blue, sometimes green, sometimes grey, tinged with white and gold and silver when the sun shines, dark and brooding when it's cloudy. Sometimes the waves are very tall and high, and when they roll in to shore, they dash themselves against the rocks with a mighty crash, and when they roll into the beach, they leave things on the sand--shells and stones and odd creatures. It is full of very strange and wonderful creatures and plants and treasures untold."
"Fishes?" Gwynlen asked.
"Aye, fishes, and sharks, and whales, and something called the octopus, which has eight legs, with little round suckers on each one. They come in many colors--some are red, some green, some nearly white, some light brown, and there are tiny ones and huge ones. They have three hearts, and can shoot ink. Sometimes they carry clam shells as shields. I used to play with them when I was a lad--I'd take a rubber ball and dive down into the waves, and throw the ball to them, and they would slap it about by making water jets."
"Sure now!" Gilda said with very wide eyes.
"You're 'avin' us on," Gwynlen said with a little frown.
"Not a bit of it," Greenjade said smiling, and he saw Radagast smile also. Sméagol was as wide-eyed as the twins, and Mr. Partridge seemed transfixed.
"Tell us more," he said, "if yer please."
"I've seen them climb onto fishing boats also," Greenjade said, fairly giddy with the attention he was receiving, "and steal crabs from buckets, lifting off the lids with one leg and pinching the crabs with another. They're clever devils--they can change colors to blend in with their surroundings, if they see a shark coming. They can make themselves look like fishes or corals or rocks, and hide from their enemies thus. The female lays thousands of eggs at one spurt--hundreds of thousands..." He stopped short, remembering what the Wizard had said about the word "female"...but then, it was all right to use it when speaking of animals. Wasn't it? He apologetically glanced about to see if anyone had taken offense. "I used to wrestle with them sometimes," he said quickly.
"Aiiii," Gilda said shuddering, and her sister said, "I second that!" Radagast laughed.
"Now you ARE havin' us on," Mr. Partridge said grinning a bit.
"Not a bit of it," Greenjade said grinning. Actually he had wrestled an octopus but once, and that had not been for sport. But he saw no harm in stretching things a bit, since his audience seemed to hang on his words.
"Wot else is in the sea?" Gilda asked, fairly sitting on the edge of the swing.
"Mountains...some of fire and some of ice," Greenjade said. "The ones made of ice, they float, like ships. They are like splendid vast diamonds encrusted with pearl, and when the sun is on them, they sparkle like giant icicles rising high in the sky, with mysterious black-purple water all about. Some look like pure white castles made of snow, tinged with blue, and in the setting sun, they glow coral red with fiery clouds all about. And others look as though the white clouds of the sky had come to settle on the water. Beautiful, but treacherous to ships, for they extend far unseen under the water. And sometimes one sees strange little birds on them, with white shirts and black coats, walking about like humans, sometimes carrying their eggs on their feet."
"I should like to see that," Gwynlen said with a soft whistle, while Gilda laughed.
"Me too," Nell said, and Greenjade started at the sound of her voice, which came from right behind him, almost in a whisper. He had not heard her come up, and wondered how long she had been standing there listening.
And her face had such a soft wonder about it, she must have been there quite a while, and heard all....