Their mating was the profoundest thing that ever happened. So many women had he lain with in his previous life, and none of it had ever prepared him for this. He felt as a virgin, which he supposed he was, come to think of it, being initiated into the joys of the flesh, with a difference; the heart was involved too, and not as onlooker, but the initiate itself. Truly he had not known it could be like this. The union of bodies and souls clashing in fevered frenzy, where naught else mattered, ever would matter, the tasting of each other's flesh, the squeezing and exquisite wrenching, the nearly unbearable deliciousness of it all, the exhausting thrust and swell and grasp and clench and shudder and spill and burst and incredible joy, the sinking down into a sweaty and heaving bliss, the lying softly together and perfect peace, the final sigh, the kiss, the tangling of quiet fingers in hair, the tender whispers, warmth, renewal, success, settling, gratitude, tremors, glory. What else was there but this?
And yet...where there should have been perfection and ultimate importance, something was not right, something was lacking....
She lay by his side, her arm over his belly, her head on his shoulder, her hair in his hands, as they lazily wandered over the firm white arm and let a fingertip move over her throat and cheek, then across her forehead and down her nose, tracing the shape of her mouth. Yet she was too quiet somehow. Could she possibly be regretting...? He could see this was not her first time. Most likely she had lain with Harry, more than once...was she comparing the two of them in her mind?
Her leg lay over both his, her breasts pressed to his side, her fingers still against his bare shoulder. Her skin was damp, her breathing deep, almost as if she were sleeping. He had felt that he knew her, knew her more completely than any would ever know her, more than she knew herself. Yet she was withholding something of herself, something he desperately needed to know.
And at last she raised her head.
"Nell. My lovely one, my darling, my love..."
"Nell. My sweet dove. I want to marry you."
She lifted her head then. "Greenjade...."
"If you won't come to Mordor with me..."
"I cannot," she whispered. "I'm needed here. I cannot leave my folk..."
"Then I will stay," he said raking his fingers through her hair. "I'll work with your father. Will he--"
"Greenjade," she said and her voice trembled. "I...I must..."
"You love me, don't you?" he said, and he felt that stirring of fear inside. "You...you did break it off with..."
"That's the thing," she said sniffling a little. "I haven't...and...I cannot. I do care for yer, aye. But...I promised him, and I can't go back on him. I shall marry him, after his mum has gone. I shouldn't 'a come here with yer, but I wanted it so bad. And I knew yer'd be leavin' soon, and him and me must wait a period for his mournin' afore we can wed, and...I'm sorry, Greenjade. I must go back..."
"No..." Greenjade sat up straight, and so did she, reaching over for her clothes. "Nell. You cannot go to him. He can do naught for you. Can't give you children, and you want them, don't you? I can do so much for you, I can..."
"Of course I want 'em," she said with a little sob. "But one can't always have what one wants. Sometimes..."
"But you can. You deserve to have what you want. And you'd make a splendid mother, any fool can see that. Nell, please. I can't do without you. I know I'm not deserving, but..."
He stopped cold as she pulled her nightgown down over her head. Yes, what of his past? Could he ever tell her the truth about himself? Would she believe him? In his mind he had been concocting a story of his supposed past, on the isle of Lossëtold, but could he go on living with a lie, as her husband? He had convinced himself that he could, but now, with her at his side in reality, was he so certain?
He found himself pulling on his underdrawers with shaking hands. He could not let her get away from him. He would have her. He'd make himself worthy, somehow.
"And would yer really stay here?" she said as her sweetly rumpled head emerged from the neck of the nightgown. "I mean...would yer like it, and all, not get tired of it? I somehow think me as it ain't yer kind o' place."
He was silent, making no motion. Would he be content here? Among simple folk, doing the same work always, and could he be completely faithful to Nell, and find true happiness here? He had not made any friends here, truly. Not even with Mr. Partridge, for there was a wedge of mistrust between them, of which Greenjade was constantly aware. The children were pleasant enough with him, but they did not take to him as they had done with Sméagol. The soldiers, especially Jem and Ben, were openly wary of him. Nell's brothers, though friendly outwardly, seemed to hold that same seed of mistrust that Mr. Partridge did. Greenjade had thought he could earn their trust and esteem by being the best possible husband to Nell that he could be, and taking on the traits of honesty and industry that they so valued.
But there was the insurmountable obstacle of Jem. Thanks to Radagast, who had made the people aware of just how much they owed to the soldiers who had fought for the freedom of Middle-earth, he was held in great esteem now. The Wizard had recently confided in Greenjade that was why he had undertaken the education of the village, so that they would come to appreciate their true heroes as they deserved, and he had succeeded. People hung bunches of flowers on the doors of the soldiers' homes, or brought them gifts of food, and children smiled openly at them and asked for stories of their deeds, and made little things for them...especially the Partridge children. That had been Radagast's doing.
And somehow Greenjade knew that had royally cocked things up for him, although he knew that had not been Radagast's intention. If he could persuade Nell to become his wife, the villagers' sympathy would be with Jem. Greenjade, and perhaps Nell also, would be out of their favor, maybe for all time....
He reached out and fingered a lock of her hair, as she blinked back tears.
"I've a bad past," he heard himself saying, sternly warning himself not to betray too much. "And somehow I think people here know that. But I thought I could atone for it by, well, working hard, and doing good things, and... I'm not sure how to go about it, but I thought..."
"Aye, I've wondered," Nell said, childishly wiping her nose on the sleeve of her gown. "Oft I've thought me that I know naught of yer. Jem told me that Ben has seen yer before. He told some daffy tale of yer turning into a bat..." She laughed a little through her sniffles. "Well, I didn't take much stock in that, but he said yer went to a barmaid and charmed her like a snake with a bird, or somethin' o' that sort, and drew her out with yer.... Well, I had me doubts of that also. Seein' as yer could of charmed me friends if yer had liked, and yer didn't, as far as I know. And I think not, or I would know of it somehow, even if they didn't tell me. So I dare say Ben was in his cups, where he likes best to stay. But...even so, I've oft wondered me. I never asked, since it weren't me business, but..."
"I've wandered long, and done some bad things," he said, wincing inwardly at how lame it sounded even as he spoke. He wondered if perhaps he should tell her the truth, after all. But would she believe him? He had gone over and over in his mind imagining her reaction if he were to tell her of his true origins. Would she shrink away with horror? Would she laugh and say he was daft and did he really expect her to believe such wild tales? Would she tell him to go his way, she wanted naught to do with him any more? "I know I'm not good enough for you, not nearly. But you've brought out so much in me that I did not even know was there. If I thought you felt naught for me, I would pack up and go, here and now. I--"
"I?" Nell laughed a little. "I thought 'twas I that was not good enough for you. Bein' as how yer goin' to Mordor to make of it a fine place, and--"
"That's not my choice," Greenjade said, groping for his discarded drawers and pulling them on. "Well, it is, but...it's not my wish to go. But it's there or back to the prison where--"
"Prison?" Nell's eyebrows lifted.
"Aye. I suppose we should have said aught of it before, but what with Sméagol being incapacitated and all, and we would not have had a place to stay if we had told the whole truth..."
"'Tis all right, Greenjade. I thought it all along. But it matters not, any more. I've al'ays had a fancy for a roguish sort of fellow, I s'pose. I've already told yer of Harry, and his doin's. Now I must be gettin' back. We can meet here betimes in the night till the time comes for yer to go. But I cannot be goin' with yer. This is me home, and I cannot leave."
She stood up a bit shakily, and he stood with her, reaching to take her hands. They kissed a long kiss, then he clasped her in his arms, caressing her loose hair and her back and arms.
The next day Radagast said they would be going in a few days. Greenjade avoided being alone with him, as a guilty child attempting to dodge parental wrath, feeling all the while the Wizard likely knew of what had passed the previous night, and tried not to make eye contact. Sméagol went about his usual tasks sadly, without saying much. Nell barely spoke to Greenjade when she was home, and seemed in a hurry to go off to work. The lovers were at great pains to behave as they had previously.
And Greenjade realized that he could not stay here, even with Nell. He simply did not belong. He could never be content to live as folk in the village lived, day by day, night by night. He was not cut out for it. Yet how could he leave, without Nell by his side?
Yet Nell met him that night, and the following. And on the third night, he began to worry.
"What if you have a child?" he asked her.
"Then I will rejoice," she replied simply, as she lay in his arms with her hair spilling over him.
"But...if you're going to wed Jem..."
"He knows I'm with yer," she said.
"What?" Greenjade drew up his knees, awkwardly attempting to sit up. She sat up also.
"Aye," she said softly. "I told him. He said if I were to get a child from yer, he would raise it as his own. He--"
"Is that why you've been coming to me?" Greenjade involuntarily curled himself as if hiding from her somehow. "To get a child from me?"
"Well, in part," she said. "I--"
"But I thought...I thought you...cared for me," Greenjade said a bit childishly. And felt a cracking sensation in his insides. So this is what they mean by a broken heart, he thought. And there is naught worse.
"I do," she said, reaching a hand out to touch his face. He drew back from her, and to his dismay he felt his eyes welling up and getting wet. "I do care, or I wouldn't be here, even to get a child, which is what I want most in the world. But I cannot go with yer, I've already told yer why. I--"
"So…so you'll just have my child, and I've no say in the matter?" he babbled. "I'll never see it, nor watch it grow, nor have any part in the raising of it?"
She reached for her gown, and pulled it over her head. There was something guilty in that action, as though she too were attempting to cover herself in more ways than one.
"Did it ever occur to yer," she said, "that yer might have more than one child goin' about already, wonderin' who its father is, and why folks are treatin' it as if 'tweren't good enough to be with their little 'uns? Did yer ever happen to think on that, Greenjade? Or did yer just seduce every maid at yer own whim, with nary thought as to what would come of it?"
"Then you know...?" he said, lowering his face from her, feeling as though he would never be able to look her in the eye again.
"Nay, I was testin' yer," she said, "in order to see if what Ben said of yer was the truth. Now I see that it is."
Greenjade fell silent, wishing he might die there and then, yet knowing that if he did, what he had endured in the Shadow would seem the merest discomfort compared to what he would know now.
"I will leave tomorrow," he said numbly. "Whether the others come with me or no. I cannot bide here a moment longer. I'm sorry now that I ever came."
"I'm sorry if yer hurtin'," she said. "I didn't mean for that. I do care for yer, I want yer to know. But..."
"I suppose I deserve to feel as I do now," he said. "But...it's more than I can bear." The water in his eyes spilled over and he turned from her.
She came to him and laid a hand on his shoulder.
"I'm so sorry, Greenjade," she said again. "I'll make of your child one that yer can be proud of, I promise yer that. And someday, I'd like fer yer to come back and see it. Won't yer come and lay with me one last time afore yer go?"
He could scarcely believe her audacity.
"Nay," was all he could find to say, shaking his head. "Go now. Just...just leave me here. I'll be..."
"I don't feel right, leavin' yer to yerself," she said, and he heard tears in her voice. "Yer won't go off and do somethin'...foolish now, will yer? I couldn't bear that. Greenjade, yer will get through this. I remember right well how I felt when I found that Harry weren't comin' back to me. I thought I couldn't go on with livin', and that I'd die there and then. But I didn't. Yer hear all manner of tales of folks dyin' of grief an' all that, and some of 'em might be true. But there's folks that don't die of it also. There's plenty as goes on livin', and finds that somehow they can even be happy once more."
"Somehow, I do not think I will be one of them," he said. "Even though I'm scarcely one of the good and innocent, who I dare say are the ones most likely to die of broken hearts. The bad and guilty know the consequences of dying, and that it is likely to be worse, rather than a blessed relief."
"I know not what comes after death," Nell said.
"But I do," Greenjade said, turning to look at her. "And I would not have you know it, for anything. And if you were to go with me, you would know it. So I suppose it is best that you stay here and marry Jem, and live a good and virtuous life with him and all that. I would not have you go with me, and know what I have known."
"And how did yer know of this?" Nell spoke barely above a whisper.
"I saw it," he said. "I knew death, and was brought back from it through the intercession of my stepfather and mother. Have you heard aught of the Halls of Mandos?"
"I've heared mention of it. But very little. No one seems to know aught of it. Me mum used to tell me and me brothers we’d go to the ‘bad place’ when we died, if we didn’t behave ourselves. And you...yer have been there?"
"I have. The ‘prison’ I spoke of is not an earthly prison. I was there in the part where those who had not ‘behaved themselves’ must abide. My penance was going to Mordor with Radagast to clean up the filth of Sauron. And I must go. I was only fooling myself, to think I could stay here, and make my home among your people, with you. Or that I could take you with me, although I think you would be an asset there, in Mordor, a woman of your strength and goodness. I thought you and I could spawn a fine race of new people to populate the new land, and all that. And that you could be my queen and so forth, and we could rule there and make a beautiful and fruitful nation of it, such as it has not been for over a thousand years..."
He halted, looking her in the face once more. She did not seem to have heard a word he had said.
"And I may as well tell you," he continued, "Sméagol is...well, you'll not believe me, perhaps, but he was the one known as Gollum. Sméagol was his name before he became that creature. My stepfather is the Ringbearer himself--the one Radagast calls Frodo Baggins. He went into the West, as you know, after the Ring of Power was destroyed, and he wed my mother, whom the Lord of the Seas chose for his mate. I am, or was, one of the Seafolk. I had powers of my own and was a prince of my realm, and my mate and my children were destroyed by my enemies. I had become a follower of Morgoth, who tricked me into believing that I could become a great ruler, and he told me I must destroy the Ringbearer in order to be so. My sister Fairwind killed me when I made an attempt on the lives of my stepfather and my siblings and their friends, and I ended up in the Shadow, as I have told you. I was condemned to wander Arda as a mortal man, and I may not see my family members nor visit them on the Isle where they now reside. Please do not tell anyone of what I have told you, at least not until long after we have died, should you outlive us. Nell..."
She continued to stand in silence, just staring at him.
"Say something," he pleaded foolishly.
"Goodnight, Greenjade," she said after a long moment, sounding slightly dazed, then she slowly turned to climb the ladder down from the loft.
And after she had gone into the house, he climbed down also, and went over down the path where he had once wandered naked and full of wonder, until he came to the open place, and then he gave voice to a shriek that must have wakened every sleeper for miles around.
And at breakfast the following morning, Radagast informed all that Jem's mother had died the previous night.