Nell came back home the next day, both to Greenjade's relief and his pain; he had dreaded the thought of leaving without saying farewell to her. She talked of the new arrival mainly; he was tiny, but seemed to be doing all right, thanks to Radagast, who knew just what to do. She thought the little one would look like Gil; both the older children favored Jennie, who of course was lovely but at least one of the children should favor its daddy....
"Jem's mum was my mum's cousin," she said, although Greenjade knew this already. "It's a surprise that so many attended her buryin'. There's some as say she never wed Jem's dad, and both her lads are...you know. I don't know if there be aught in it, meself, but I don't care. 'Tis no fault of his, one way or 'tother."
"So when will the weddin' be?" Miss Carrie said at the supper table, and Greenjade started.
"Not for a while yet," Nell said without looking Greenjade's way. He could scarcely help but be thankful that she would at least wait until he was gone to marry Jem. "I'm thinkin'...at Harvest, or when it's over. Maybe even Yule. We don't want a lot o' fuss and bother. Just to be joined, and that's it. He wants to get his house in better order first. It could do with a bit o' fixin' up."
"And then there's yer gown," Miss Carrie said. "Of course yer'll be needin' a nice 'un, and that'll take some doin'."
"Oh, I'll wear mum's," Nell laughed a little. "It fits me pretty well, although it needs lettin' out in...places." Her cheeks reddened a bit.
Greenjade excused himself and went out to the stable, taking the book from its hiding place and unwrapping it. A qualm of guilt swept over him once more.
Ah, but Samwise doesn't need it. Surely he has it memorized by now. And I will send it back in good time. But I need it now. It's all that stands between me and madness, I'm sure. It will take some doing to hide it from the old fellow, but I'm certain I can. I'll send it back the next place we come to. Surely we'll stop at another village sometime, and then...
Maybe he could copy it...but no, that wouldn't do. He must have the original, the one his stepfather had written himself, held in his hands, poured his whole heart and mind into. A copy just wouldn't be the same. Just holding the book to him, pressing it against his breast and feeling its warmth seep into him, it kept the demons at bay if only for a time. Better than drink, and he'd certainly never try THAT again. It had made matters even worse, brought in a heavy dose of the Black Prison to him. No, Samwise didn't need it; he had his wife, his family, his friends, his relations...everything Greenjade didn't have. Radagast was his only friend. Yes, he could have befriended Sméagol, but something held him off. That little invisible wall...of course they could not trust each other.
And Radagast should not trust Greenjade either.... He sighed and closed the book. Or did Radagast trust him? He never could be sure, just how much the Wizard knew. Far more than he was telling, of that Greenjade was sure....
The next day Gil and Jennie came over in their wagon, bringing the tiny Samwise, and the other brothers came as well, with their families, and Jem also, and Betony, Lu and Viola, and Maisy and Cal with their dog Tater and their older brother Nic, and there was quite a celebration. Some brought food from home, cakes and pies, some blackberry wine, jugs of cider. Where there had been sorrow, there was now merriment, albeit with a bittersweet tinge, since the departure of the Travelers would soon be at hand. They would be leaving the next day, Radagast said, and so they had best start getting all their things together, and deciding which things must be left behind, since they could not take all with them. Greenjade managed to hide the Book inside the feather ticking Miss Carrie had made for him. He begged of her a darning needle and thread to take with them to make repairs to their clothing, and she had taught them how, so all he had to do was take out the basting on one side of the feather tick and hide the book, and baste it back when he had done reading.
Earlier he had heard Nell's friends twittering with her about the upcoming wedding, as gaily as if they did not know he was listening, and he had strained his ears to hear what she was saying about it, but her words were not intelligible. Likely she did know he was overhearing, and was keeping her voice down for his sake....
But Lu now sat with the one-legged soldier, Dan, apart from the others. Radagast said Dan had long fancied Lu, but had not spoken because of his leg. The Wizard had told him to speak his mind to her; he might get a surprise. And he had done so just yesterday, and she had accepted him.
Greenjade thought to himself that an awful lot of things had transpired that he would not have known a thing about, had Radagast not seen fit to tell him. Even Sméagol had known about Dan and Lu before him. It made Greenjade feel a trifle jealous.
Jem came to him and stood a moment before speaking, as he sat with Radagast.
"I want to thank yer for the rose on Mum's box," he said simply. "I weren't expectin' it, I'll admit. But I do thanks yer."
Nell, holding loosely to his arm, smiled a little at Greenjade. Then she and Jem abruptly turned to have a look at the baby once more.
Sméagol played with the children on the lawn as one of them for a while, tossing sticks to Nildë for her to chase and bring back, but by and by he came back and sat with Radagast and Greenjade, sniffling a bit.
"He has yet another sorrow coming," Radagast said softly to Greenjade after Sméagol had to go out back. "And so do I. And it will be the hardest thing I have ever done."
"Do you?" Greenjade started. So preoccupied with his own grief he had been, it had never occurred to him that the others could possibly have any. What could this sorrow be?
Then on a hunch he looked at Nildë, who lay at the Wizard's feet.
"Aye," Radagast said as he saw the look. "We cannot take her to Mordor. 'Tis no place for her, as it is now. Sooner or later, we will have to find her a new home. I cannot tell you how much I am dreading it."
His voice trembled, and Greenjade stared at him. Leave Nildë?
"I do not think I have ever loved any creature as I have loved her, and I have had a great many," Radagast continued. "Of course, they are all short-lived, being as I am, immortal, I have had to part with a great many creatures. I have forgotten none of them, even to the smallest. I have had Nildë less than a year, and so much comfort and companionship she has provided me, it seems I have had her with me always."
He shook his head, his eyes wet, and Greenjade ventured to speak then.
"Why not leave her here?" he suggested. "If you must leave her anywhere, certainly she would have an excellent home here. Mr. Partridge is very fond of her, and the young ones adore her. And when...Nell...moves out, there will be an empty place..."
"You are right, of course, but the time has not yet come. Sméagol needs her. I think she has done much to make him what he has become, and to part from her now, and break his heart at this point, would likely undo all that has been wrought in him. No, the time is not yet right. I know of a place she might go, and of folk who can give her the home she deserves. It is not far from Mordor. I have not yet met these people, but I have heard much good of them. I suppose you read of Faramir in the Book? He has a wife and a little son now, according to Samwise, and I would give much to meet them. I dare say Nildë would be happy with them, or as happy as it is possible for her to be, parted from us. Of course, we cannot go back for her, for it would not do to take her away from them after they have grown attached to her. I only wish that it did not have to be."
"There is much I wish did not have to be," Greenjade said. "I cannot yet take it in that this is to be our last day here. It seems we have always lived here. Come to think of it, in my present form, I HAVE always lived here."
Radagast nodded his grey head. "Aye, and I'm sorry to leave also. We have all grown much attached to this place, and learned a great deal and experienced much growth. A large piece of our hearts will remain behind. And I know I've told you before, but I have been made so proud of you and Sméagol both. The two of you have flourished far beyond what I would have expected in so short a time. It is a very manly thing you have done in your decision to do right by Jem and Nell. And I know all too well how hard it was for you, but you have done it, and you will not regret it, Greenjade."
"You give me far too much credit," Greenjade said almost to himself. Perhaps he should tell the truth about the book, and leave it here for Miss Carrie or Nell to send back...or take it back himself tomorrow. And he'd had a notion in his head to waylay Nell and try once more to persuade her to come to Mordor. Surely he could wear her down. She did care for him, he knew. More than she was letting on. Perhaps it would not even take that much doing....
Idly he picked out Jem in the crowd, who of course was sitting with Nell on a garden bench, and considering that his mother had died barely three days before, he looked radiantly happy. And why shouldn't he be? He had Nell now, and she would be his for all of his days. The four Mrs. Partridges were sitting about with their father-in-law nearby passing the baby around and admiring him extravagantly, and Nell glanced their way from time to time with a wistful smile.
"You are far stronger than you think, Greenjade," Radagast said.
"Yet we all have limits," Greenjade said wrenching his eyes from Nell. "That's what you said, isn't it."
"Aye, but how do we find those limits? We cannot know what they are until we have reached them."
Greenjade glanced aside at Mr. Partridge once more. Jennie had handed the baby to him, and he took it in one arm, his other being around little Linnet, who looked at her tiny new cousin in rapt fascination, her lips slightly parted, her eyes very wide, a dark curl falling over one of them as she leaned forward. The very image of sweet innocence, with no idea of what lay ahead of her, what her limits were, no notion of where it would all end, no inkling of the world's cruelty and the absurdity of fate. Her soft little fingers reached out to touch her tiny cousin's face, as they might have caressed the wing of a butterfly.
"I've a feeling Morgoth is laughing at me," Greenjade said half to himself.
His eyes sought out Nell once more, although he sternly told them to keep away from her. She was sitting once more with Jem on the bench, her face turned so Greenjade could not see her expression. Just the sun glancing off her hair and making red fire upon it.
And he thought of Garland once more. Where was she now?
He remembered little of what he had seen in his drunken state, but well he remembered Garland.
And he wondered if he could bring her back. Out of the dark prison where she was now chained.
Was it possible?
Or would she remain there, for all the ages, as he would have, if someone had not made intercession?
Garland, fairest in all the seas, his mate, his queen, mother of his children, who had been given to him, and who had deceived and despised him, taken another mate, who had perhaps proved to be an enemy and had betrayed her and the children and murdered them. She was where she deserved to be now, being paid for her evil deeds as he had been. Or did she deserve it? Well, of course she did, or she would not be there...but was it possible that she could be saved, brought out, given another chance, as he had been? Perhaps he had wronged her, after all. Perhaps she had turned on him because he had neglected her, regarded her as a mere ornament and asset, significant only inasmuch as she was a reflection of himself. Had he heaped too much scorn on her accomplishments, thought to placate her with his lavish gifts, as one might appease a child, so that she might stand out of his way, yield all to him?
If he could persuade Nell to go with him, would it end the same way? Would she end in hating him, resenting him, betraying him?
He started at the sound of a child's voice, and looked up to see the twins standing before him and Sméagol and Radagast with sad faces.
"Dad says yer goin' away tomorrer," the fairer one, Gilda, said.
"Is yer really?" Gwynlen queried. "We've things for yer, that us and Mum made. But I'm not s'posed to say what they are yet."
"Aye, that we are," Radagast said. "It breaks my heart to leave this place, but go we must. We've lingered far longer than we meant to."
"Couldn't yer stay just a little longer?" Gwynlen pleaded to Sméagol.
"I wants to," Sméagol said with his eyes growing wet, "but we can't. Brown Master says we must go."
"Who's going to be president of our club now?" Gilda said. "It won't be the same without yer. I don't think it'll last long. Likely it'll break up."
"Sometimes a fellowship must come to an end," Radagast said, "but our memories remain behind. We will take your addresses with us, and write to you when we reach Mordor, and keep you all posted as to our progress. We shall not forget you, by any means."
"We'll get letters?" Gwynlen said sniffling a little. "I never got a letter before."
"It's well that you can read a bit now," Radagast smiled. "I expect you to keep up with your learning after we're gone. Jem will be teaching the school now, after he and your aunt Nell marry. You'll like that, I'm sure--your own uncle as your schoolmaster. And we've set the Community Center up for the schoolhouse, and appointed a board to see to matters."
"Does the school 'ave a name?" Gilda asked.
"Why, I don't know," Radagast said lifting his eyebrows. "I hadn't thought of that. I suppose it will be up to the board to decide on a name."
"I think it should be called the Brown Wizard School," Gilda said. Radagast laughed a little.
"But I wanted to call it the Greenjade School," Gwynlen protested, "'cos, well, it just sounds so pretty."
Greenjade started. "Oh no," he said. "'Brown Wizard School' is far better. He did much more to found it than I. All I did was teach some things of the Sea. But he taught the things that really matter."
"I liked the sea-things," Gilda said. "They was more interestin' than just figurin' numbers and such. I want to see the Sea sometime. D'yer think I could someday?"
Greenjade stared at her for a moment. He had been rather evasive of the children, who reminded him that he would never see his own children or siblings again in this world, but now it occurred to him that he had missed out by doing so. And it was too late now. The twins were his favorites among the young female Partridges. Delia was prim and shy, while her sister Meg, by contrast, was bossy and overly talkative, although these very qualities made her a great help to her mum with her ability to manage the younger ones. Trilla was sweet but rather unexceptional, and Linnet too small to be of much interest to Greenjade, although she was already quite a little beauty, taking after her mother. But Gilda and Gwynlen seemed the brightest and spunkiest of all the lasses, they were interested in everything, they said the most unexpected things, they were funny and impulsive and affectionate and well-mannered and liked to be in on all doings....
In short, they were much as Nell must have been in her girlhood.
"If you are so determined," Greenjade answered finally, "I'm sure you could see it if you wish. It is not so far from here as all that. A week's journey on horseback, is my guess. However, all you would be able to see is the surface. It is very splendid, but naught in comparison to what lies beneath."
"I couldn't see that," Gilda said with a little sigh. "I carn't swim or nothin'. How is it you can?"
Out of the corner of his eye, Greenjade saw the Wizard lift his eyebrows and then turn his face away.
"Where I come from," Greenjade explained simply, "everyone swims, my lass."
"I can stick me face in the water," Gwynlen said modestly, "so long as I holds me nose. Once't I done it for five counts on a dare."
"Sméagol," Gilda said, "will yer tell us of yer master some more afore yer goes?"
Greenjade jerked his head toward Sméagol, startled. A blush stained the small fellow's cheeks.
"He's been tellin' us all about the Ringbearer," Gwynlen explained to Greenjade. "To 'ear him tell it, yer'd think he really knowed 'im an' all. I love 'earin' about him."
"I wish I'd of knowed 'im too," Gilda said. "Arfter Sméagol goes, there'll be no one to tell us aught of him."
Radagast was looking their way now. Greenjade lifted his eyebrows to him.
"You should write down the things he has told you," the Wizard said with a little smile at Sméagol. "So that you'll always remember them, and can show them to your children."
"I ain't got none yet," Gwynlen said, "'cept for Princess Butterfly. And her won't sit still long enough."
It was nightfall when at last the party began to break up. Nearly all the Partridge children gathered around Sméagol, some of them crying. Jennie even let him hold the baby for a minute. Greenjade felt a trifle jealous; then he was allowed to hold the little one also, to his surprise. It was sleeping by that time, so unexpectedly soft and warm in his arms, that he was overwhelmed by a feeling he had never experienced before, even with his own young ones. He did not want to let it go. Jennie looked at him in some wonder, yet seemed relieved when he finally handed the infant back to her.
And he made up his mind, in that moment. He would see Nell tonight, and he would use every persuasive power he had to make her come to Mordor with him. Every trick he had at his disposal. She would not have her child with another as its father. He could do it, he was certain. He knew all manner of techniques to make women happy. He had used almost none of them with Nell as of yet, for it hadn’t seemed necessary, and he had been a bit too taken aback, at times, to draw upon his store of knowledge. But tonight…he would use them. He would not let her get away from him. He would not have his child brought up by another. Radagast would just have to understand.
He wandered back to the house in a daze, then started as he heard his name spoken once more.
He turned sharply, near the front door. There was no one else about.
"Nell." And he tried to conjure up a trick in his mind to persuade her then and there, and could come up with nothing. It was as though his memory had been wiped clean of all such.
"That which you told me that night," she said almost timidly, standing tall and pale in the dusk, "was that true?"