Greenjade had to stop and vomit along the way, and Radagast stopped and waited for him until he straightened up, feeling a trifle better, but still a little weak and giddy. He heard Sméagol speak of Nildë, and wondered where she was. Serilinn had stopped her wailing and had hidden her face against Radagast’s shoulder, whimpering a little. The Wizard spoke soft and comforting words to her, assuring her than no one would harm her again as long as she was in his care.
As they approached their campsite, Sméagol, who was carrying the torch now, suddenly broke into a run as a muffled bark rang out. Radagast, still carrying Serilinn, said joyfully, “It’s Nildë!” and picked up his pace as well, then remembered Greenjade and slowed himself again.
Greenjade jabbed his stick hard into the ground before him to steady himself. With his free hand he clutched the bag of silver tightly, as much to protect himself as it. Radagast had told him to hold to his arm if he needed to, but Greenjade, hard-headed being that he was, had declined. Serilinn was quiet now, sniffling, and Radagast remembered the handkerchief and gave it to her.
Sméagol dropped to his knees as Nildë ran to greet them, throwing his arms around her, crying, “Pretty doggie has come back!” several times. Radagast smiled at the sight, then looked to Greenjade saying, “Are you all right?” Then he asked Sméagol to get the fire going again. Nildë came to her master, sniffing, and he set Serilinn on her feet.
“This is our Nildë,” he said by way of introduction. “She’s a good lass, and will not bite you, unless you were to attack, and I misdoubt that you will do that. Nildë, this lovely lass is Serilinn. What think you, my love?”
“What a beautiful creature,” Serilinn said and reached out a hand to stroke Nildë’s head. That struck Greenjade as odd, the way she said that. He remembered the way the Partridge girls used to make over the dog, “Who’s the sweetest doggie in the 'ole world, eh? Who's our very own prettiest one…let us give ‘er a hundred thousand kisses, no, make that two” and so on. Hard to imagine Serilinn carrying on in such a manner.
“I’ve not seen a dog since I was very small,” she said. “And most of them were not beautiful and smelled badly, and had tiny insects on them. This one’s hairs are pleasurable to the touch, and thick.”
Nildë licked her hand.
“She likes you already,” Radagast smiled. “Let’s get you something to eat. Sméagol, my good fellow, will you do the honors? I must see to Greenjade’s wounds. My dear, our fare is very plain, as you’ll come to find. However, it is food, and that’s the main thing. We will be stopping at a village soon, and perhaps staying there for two or three days so the two of you might have a bit of time to rest and recover. Sméagol, would you please to toss me that brown bag—no, not that one, the other—thank you, dear fellow. Here, I’ve been clipping these leaves here and yonder, if you’ve noticed. They’re what I’ve been using in your tea, among other things. But they have marvelous healing properties as well. Must get some water boiling in order to use them, but here’s the balm jar, it will do for the time being…”
Greenjade winced as the Wizard applied the cool ointment to his wounds, but in very little time it began to work wonderfully well, soothing the burning pain and pervading his senses with a marvelously calming effect. He saw Sméagol holding a piece of bread and cheese over the fire with a forked stick, as Serilinn poured water into a small pot and set it in the flames. As soon as it started to simmer, Radagast crumbled some of the leaves into it, and sang a little wordless song as Sméagol handed the bread and cheese to Serilinn.
“Thank you so very much,” she said to him as she took it. Radagast smiled gently at her graciousness, and at the same time, looked as though something hurt him. Although stilted for one so young, her speech was accented and charming, her voice soft and melodious and very beautiful.
A pleasant fragrance began to permeate the air before long, a familiar scent…which Greenjade soon recognized as the one of the kind of sweet grass Nell used her clothes to make them smell good. Yet rather than being saddening, it was comforting somehow. Sméagol was taking deep breaths of it also, as he stroked Nildë and ate berries.
“Where do you suppose they have gone?” Radagast said as he applied bits of the boiled leaves to Greenjade’s wounds.
“I could not say,” Serilinn said, “but they will follow us nocturnally. They cannot travel in the day, for the sunlight is fatalistic to them. They sleep below the ground. But by night…”
“Why would they follow us?” Greenjade spoke up. “Revenge?”
“They desire my blood,” Serilinn said simply. “Elf-blood gives them the powers that mortal blood does not give.”
She held out one hand, palm upward, to show a bite wound on the delicate wrist. Radagast drew in his breath.
“Why did you not speak of this sooner?” he said picking up the balm jar once more.
“It will heal quickly by itself,” she answered, her eyes large and dark and gemlike in the firelight, “and you need the remedies for the mortal man. I can see he is mortal by the hairs upon his face.”
“Just the same,” Radagast said, “let me put a touch of this balm on you. You will be surprised and amazed at its properties.”
“Are you of the Maiar?” Serilinn asked as the Wizard gently smeared dabs of balm on her wounds…which were numerous, Greenjade noticed wincing. Some were on her throat, as he noticed when she unfastened her cloak. She wore a dark-colored dress that looked too big for her and had been patched. Giddily, he thought when they reached the next town, he would buy her a pretty dress to wear, or have one made for her. Likely that was the only one she had.
“They may be following us,” Radagast said. “Perhaps we should surround our encampment with the silver, so they cannot enter. Sméagol, please take this pouch, and lay the coins all around, about two inches apart, can you do that for us, good fellow? My child, you say they sleep in the ground? Where do you sleep, then?”
“In the ground also,” she said very softly. “Near Duathris. Gaergath used to put chains on me to keep me from running away, for I did try it once.”
“Great Illuvatar,” Radagast said. “And your own mother permitted this?”
“Aye. She took my blood herself. It gave her great powers, she said. Since Sauron was defeated, their powers had begun to diminish. Yet Gaergath said my blood would give them back again, and all the Elves had left Middle-earth, I was one of the few left. There are some Dark-Elves left, however, and they go in search of these.”
“Monstrous,” Radagast said as he replaced the lid on the balm jar. “Simply… How long has this been going on, my dear?”
“I am not certain,” Serilinn said. “Since the Dark Lord’s fall, I think.”
“Seven years,” Radagast said as if to himself. “And you have had to sleep in the ground, chained, for that long? How did you bear it, little one?”
Serilinn was silent for a long moment, picking up a stick and poking in the fire with it.
“Sometimes I would hear a voice of singing,” she said at last, “when I lay in the ground, lovely music, almost as if my nurse Meleth were singing to me. She always sang to me when she was putting me into my bed, and held my hand and sang beautiful songs, and she would tell me of Valinor, the true Elvenhome, and how she would go there someday, and take me with her. And I would hear her singing betimes, and then I would smell a fragrance like the flowers she used to pick to set beside my bed. And then I could sleep, for I felt that she had come back to me, and would take me with her someday. I would see Valinor in my dreams, and she was there, ever beside me.”
“And what happened to her?” Radagast asked.
“I do not know,” Serilinn said without looking at him, looking only into the fire. “Duathris and Gaergath told me she met with an accident and had drowned, but I do not believe them. I think they found out about her plan to escape to Valinor and take me with her, and so they drank all her blood and killed her.”
Her eyes puddled up once more and overflowed but she made no sound. The Wizard put an arm around her slender shoulders.
“Monstrous,” he said and Greenjade started, for he had been about to say exactly the same thing, wondering how she could mourn a mother who had done such things to her own child. The Wizard put an arm around the girl’s shoulders. “And yet, when you had every chance to run away and save yourself, you stayed and fought them off, and saved Greenjade’s life…and he a complete stranger to you. I can scarcely take that in.”
Greenjade glanced at his walking-stick, stained as it was with dark blood, and he picked it up and made to lay it in the fire, then stopped short, thinking he might need it if that Gaergath and his foul cronies were to show themselves.
“Are you certain the silver coins will keep them away?” he asked. Sméagol shivered.
“Well, they drove them off,” Radagast said. “They are mithril silver, and may be fatal to their touch. I would not think they would wish to return. But we must take no chances. A pity we haven’t Frodo’s mithril coat; she might wear that. However, I suppose he took it West with him, or left it with Sam, and I seriously doubt Sam would part with it.”
“Who is Frodo?” Serilinn spoke up.
“Why, have you not heard of the Ringbearer and his companion?” Radagast said. Sméagol looked up and then hastily went back to sit by the fire. Serilinn shook her head. “He it was who carried Sauron’s Ring of Power to Mount Doom to destroy it, along with his faithful servant Samwise. Both of them hobbits of the Shire…have you not heard of that either, my child?”
“I heard that the Ring had been destroyed,” she said, “but I thought a mighty warrior had taken it. Like the King Isildur.”
“Nay, far from it. They were no warriors, these two little fellows, but their hearts were as stout as any that could be imagined…as your own. I will tell you the story in full, but not tonight. It is long, and for another time. Tomorrow I will tell it all, and then we must decide what to do with you. For we are going to Mordor, and we cannot take you with us. It is no place for a child, even one as brave as yourself. There is no ship going to Valinor, as far as I know, for the last one sailed five years ago. Still, there are some elves remaining in Middle-Earth, and they will surely be sailing someday. I am going there myself, but not for a good many years yet. Perhaps as a special favor, the King can provide you with passage on one of his own ships. I will write to him when we come to the next village. But do not set your heart too firmly on going soon, my dear. It may not be for a great many years. If you are still here when I am ready to go, I will take you with me. But in the meantime, we must decide what to do with you. We will be passing through Ithilien on our way, and I know the Prince and his lady wife. Perhaps we can leave you with them. They are fine folk, and would take excellent care of you, I know. But for now…let us get some sleep. I’ll brew a potion that will help you to sleep and forget what has happened for the time being, and sweeten your dreams.”
“She may have my share,” Greenjade said. “I can do without now.”
“Mine too,” Sméagol spoke up.
“That is kind of both of you,” Radagast said, looking a bit surprised, “but after what has happened tonight, I think you both will have sore need of it. There is plenty for all three of you. As for myself, I will keep one eye open tonight, in case of any…disruptions.”
Sméagol began to fumble at his cloak, then at his jerkin, and then, shamefaced, he took out a silver chain with a round locket on it.
“She can wears this nice silver,” he said standing up, and laying it around Serilinn’s neck. She picked up the locket and looked wondering at it.
“Why, wherever did you get that?” Radagast asked.
“Umm…Miss Carrie gives it to me,” Sméagol stammered.
“Did she? You never showed it to us before.”
Greenjade looked sharply at Sméagol, who avoided his eyes.
“I…wished not to show it,” Sméagol said, then hung his head.
“Sméagol. You took it, didn’t you?” the Wizard said sternly. “How could you? Miss Carrie trusted you. She was good to you, and taught you many things.”
“I sorry,” Sméagol said barely audibly, sniffling a bit. “I likes it so much, and it comforts us to wear it. She keep it in pretty box, and shows it to me one day, says it was her mother's. I was going to put it back when we goes, but could not part myself from it. When we gets to village, we sends it back.”
“Aye, that we will, and you will write to her at once and apologize,” Radagast said. “It was likely a great treasure to her. I can scarcely believe you would do this.”
Once a thief, always a thief, Greenjade thought shaking his head…and then he stopped, remembering a certain Book.
Just the same, he thought Radagast would do well to keep an eye on his silver.
“On second thought,” the Wizard said, “perhaps we had better keep it until we can get her one of her own. Silver is expensive, and hard to come by in these parts. We will write Miss Carrie and explain....I ought to scold both of you rascals soundly, but cannot find it in my heart to do so tonight. Had Greenjade not run away, this poor girl may never have been rescued, and Sméagol’s naughty theft may prove her salvation also. Perhaps the terror you two rogues have experienced may be sufficient punishment. So…put a little more wood on the fire, if you please, Sméagol. It’s growing colder. And hand me some of that bread and cheese—I’m hungry myself. And I dare say Greenjade could use a bite to eat also.”
Later in the night, Greenjade was awakened by a light tap on his shoulder. He jumped half out of his skin, then looked up to see Serilinn.
“May I sleep beside you?” she whispered. “Those two…they make noise.”
She had been sleeping between Radagast and Nildë, with Sméagol on the other side of the dog, he recalled, while he himself chose a spot on the other side of the fire, away from their snoring.
“Of course,” he said softly, pushing out his pillow so that she could share it with him, and she lay down by his side, with her back to him. He turned on his side so his front was to her back and spread his blanket over her, then put back a lock of her hair behind her ear. “Good night, little one. And thank you ever so much. I have been horribly rude, and not even thanked you yet.”
“I thank you also,” she said, and to his surprise, she took his hand and kissed it. After a startled moment, he returned the gesture, and lay with one arm over her, feeling a simple happiness for the first time ever.