"I know what you'll say," Greenjade said after Nell had gone off to work. He and Radagast were alone in the yard and the sun was on its way down. "That this cannot be and you're sorry it must be so. Save your breath. I shall marry her, and if she'll not come to Mordor with me, then I shall stay here with her. I've skills of my own now, and can make my living here. And if it's to be the Black Prison for me when I'm dead, so be it. I'd rather spend an eternity there than a lifetime without her here. She cares for me also, I saw it in her eyes. And don't bother telling me of your farm woman and how you found the courage to turn away and do what was right, and so on. I'm not as noble as you. But that's the way of it. I shall go and speak my mind to her tomorrow. And yes, I'll ask her father for her hand, and all that rot. I think he'll say yes. I'll be his partner, and take over the business when he's gone...."
He folded his arms and looked defiantly at the Wizard. Radagast looked at him so sorrowfully and compassionately, the man was on the verge of turning away and stalking off who knew where.
"Greenjade, come with me," Radagast said after a long moment. "There's someone I'd like you to meet."
Greenjade was about to retort that he was not in the mood. But there was something about the way the Wizard was looking at him, pinning him down, in a way he could do at times. Soon the man found himself following.
They walked down the road and into the main street of the village, quite a ways.
"Is it all right to ask where we are going?" Greenjade said at last.
"You'll see soon enough," Radagast said. And on they walked.
"I suppose you'll say I'm only thinking of myself," Greenjade said, "but I'm not. I'm thinking of her also. She's entitled to some happiness, wouldn't you say?"
"And what of Jem?" Radagast asked. Greenjade started.
"Jem? What can he do for her? He can't give her children. Perhaps he cannot even... And he would have her happy also, I'm sure."
"He was a hero--you know that, Greenjade. He lost much defending Middle-earth. His mother is dying of a horrible disease. He has been taking care of her for a long time now. You know this already. Surely he's entitled to some happiness also?"
"Aye, I know. But..."
"And what of your past?" The Wizard stopped and faced Greenjade, who stopped also.
"I have no past," he said. "Who knows of my other life here? No one would believe it even if the truth were told. I... You would not tell, would you?"
"Only if it were absolutely necessary to save someone, and I do not think it would be," replied Radagast. "Well, come along. We are almost there."
"Is it that place you sometimes go in the evening, without telling the rest of us?" Greenjade asked.
"It is," Radagast said.
They turned a corner where some small, and very old-looking dwellings lined a narrow lane. A few ragged children played in the twilight, and Radagast greeted some of them by name and gave them some sweets from his pocket. They turned once more at a small, plain house at the end of the lane, with a faint light at the windows. Radagast tapped at the door.
"This is where Jem lives," Greenjade said in astonishment. How he knew this, he could not have told. He had not been down this way before.
"Aye, it is," Radagast said. Footsteps could be heard within. Then Jem opened the door.
"Radagast," he said, as though he were expecting the Wizard. "Come along in...." He broke off as he saw Greenjade, and stared at him uncomprehendingly.
"How is your mother, my lad?" Radagast asked him.
"She's...sleepin'," Jem said, "thanks to the potion yer mixed for her. Your remedies 'ave done much to ease 'er pain. But..."
"But they will not save her life," Radagast said gently. "Alas, that's all I can do for her. But--"
"Aye," the young man said, "but that's somethin'. I don't think I could of stood much more, seein' 'er suffer like she was."
"May we look in on her?" Radagast said. They entered the cottage, which was neatly but poorly furnished, and smelled of herbal remedies. Jem led the two guests into an adjoining room, where a woman lay in a bed with a lamp burning low on the small bed-table. He looked at Greenjade once more with that suspicious expression the man had seen on him more than once before.
Radagast stood by the woman's bedside looking down upon her sleeping form, and after a moment, Greenjade summoned his courage and went to look also.
And what he saw, he devoutly wished never to see again.
Greenjade had scarcely a word to say for a while as they walked home in the night. The moon was out, nearly full, and he could scarcely believe its audacity, appearing as if everything were perfectly normal. Moths fluttered around lamps on the street. A cat called from some unseen location, crickets chirped in the trees, a whippoorwill whistled eerily in the distance, all unaware of and completely indifferent to human suffering.
"How long has she been so?" he asked when they were nearly home.
"For almost a year, according to Jem," said the Wizard, who seemed much subdued also. "She's but forty-five, he said. How old would you have thought her?"
"At least twice that," Greenjade said in nearly inaudible horror.
"You saw the drawing of her in the sitting-room," Radagast said. Greenjade nodded.
"She was very pretty," he said. "Why do such things happen? Did she do something dreadful, or..."
"Illnesses as such are Morgoth's doing," Radagast said. "I can scarcely believe that she ever did anything to deserve such."
"Why do the Powers suffer him to exist?" Greenjade said. "Why do they not simply obliterate him? I should think they could do it easily enough?"
"They cannot kill one of their own," the Wizard said. "Arda could be a wonderful place, if folk were not so inclined to follow Morgoth's ways. They have only to refuse to do his bidding. But there are too many who will not turn from him, and they will do as they wish. Now you see what Jem has been through. And you know of his heroism in the War, and the lack of appreciation among his own people. Nell is his only chance at happiness--his only chance. Would you take that away from him, Greenjade?"
"And what of Nell's happiness?" Greenjade reasoned. "She has been through much also. And she deserves better, surely?"
"Can you give her what she deserves?" Radagast said with a sigh.
"I can," Greenjade said. "I am sure of it. I know how to please a woman. And I know how to work now. Well, I royally botched being a father, I'm sure, but I can learn from my mistakes. I've watched Nell's brothers with their young ones, and made note to myself. And seeing as how she feels as I do...well, I know I can do better this time around. Haven't I behaved myself thus far? I've resisted seducing her friends, although they've cast many a bold glance my way, and I've heard them talk of me and it's plain they don't find me repulsive. I've gotten into no mischief and no fights, and even resisted teasing Smeagol more than necessary. I've taken naught that didn't belong to me, aside from perhaps a small cake or two. I've worked for all that is mine now, and given some to people in need. I don't suppose it strikes out all the bad that I did in my other life, but...well, I don't think I've made a complete mess of this one thus far, wouldn't you think?"
"You haven't, and I'm proud of you, truly, Greenjade," the Wizard said. "I've been pleasantly surprised with the progress of both of you, and I think this time with the Partridges was meant to be. I'm very sorry it's coming to an end soon. But even so...well, I cannot and will not force you to leave Nell to Jem. If Nell is willing to come with us as your wife, I will not refuse her, and will take her to my heart as a daughter. I think she would be an asset there. But it is not something I wish to do, and I think it would bring more harm and suffering here than good, if you were to persuade her. So I must leave it up to you, in the end. I wished you to have some idea of what you would be doing, if you went through this. I can but now leave it to your conscience."
Greenjade squirmed inside as he lay in bed, tossing from one side to the other like a boat on a squalid lake. He almost wished the Wizard had forbidden him to have aught to do with Nell, and had ordered him and Smeagol to pack their things, they were leaving in the morning--no, that very night. Greenjade had observed Smeagol with the young ones from a distance, and noted that he walked much straighter when he was among them, and that his leg seemed to pain him far less than when he was amongst the elders. Evidently he didn't wish to leave either...and who could blame him? Greenjade wondered now if he should point out the discrepancy to Radagast...but then the thought of leaving here was as the spear in the Black Prison, and he had held his tongue, wondering how much longer the other fellow could keep up the pretense. But how much longer could Greenjade live under Nell's roof, if she could never be his?
One thing was for certain: he could not stay under it tonight. He took up his bedding and went outside to the stable, climbed the ladder and lay down in the loft, clutching his pillow as tears streamed out of his eyes onto it. He cursed, sitting up, then going over to the loft window and peering out. The air was so sweet with the odors of hay and roses and grass and honeysuckle and clover, it nearly sickened him. He gloomily watched fireflies flitting upward from the grass like luminous bubbles, and heard an owl call mournfully from a tree in the distance, and sheep bleating from a longer way off, and tree frogs from the direction of the stream. The stars looked very big and close and throbbing, like the pulse of the sky, while wispy clouds drifted over them and the moon like strange dreamlike sheep. He heard himself singing very softly and monotonously, as the night breeze dried the tears on his face and a nightingale sang with maddening sweetness in the depths of the forest.
And then he saw her.
She was standing below, in her nightgown and robe, her hair unbraided, looking up--at him, her face very white and beautiful in the moonlight.
"Greenjade?" she spoke just above a whisper.
He thought his heart would nearly burst at the sound of her voice. He truly had not expected her to appear. Had she seen him go out? Or had she been answering the call of nature and then happened to hear his gloomy singing?
She was there, that was what mattered....
"Nell," he said a bit dully. "I...did not expect to see you." A far cry from the lady-killer Darkfin, to be sure.
"I just got home a bit ago," she said. "I stopped on the way to look in on Jem's mum, and he said you and Radagast had been by. And I could not sleep, and then I thought I heared yer voice..."
She broke off, and they both fell silent for a moment. He saw that her robe was blowing open, and she had taken no trouble to tie it closed, and the white nightgown molded itself against her body, and her hair fluttered in the breeze, a dark flame lit by the paleness of her face.
And then he said, almost against his will, "Will you come up?"
And she said, "I will."