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27
Feathers and Frogs

"And so the Ringbearer is in Valinor now?” Serilinn asked over the simple breakfast, which consisted of toasted bread, butter, cheese, honey, and jam, along with strips of dried venison that Greenjade and Sméagol gnawed on. She had tried a bite, but did not like it, so she said she would be like Radagast, and take no meat. Greenjade felt somewhat better now, although still a little weak.

“That he is, and very happy,” Radagast said. “I had a dream, or should I say a vision, of him, just yesterday. He was dancing with a lovely little lady all in pink and silver, and great joy pervaded all.”

Greenjade started. “I had the same dream,” he said.

“Did you now? So did Sméagol,” Radagast said. Sméagol ducked his head in shame.

“It was why I turned back,” Greenjade said. “I knew then that I could go on to Mordor. But it was growing dark, and I lost my way. And…well, you know the rest. I saw him and my mother…and my brothers and sisters. Fairwind all in white with her eyes full of love and bliss as her bridegroom put the ring on her finger, and my brothers and sisters smiling, with twinkles in their eyes…they looked to be plotting some mischief, I think. And a lovely dark little lass, very like this one, a little older perhaps…or maybe not so old, I know not. She was my elf-sister.”

“Greenjade is the Ringbearer’s stepson,” Radagast informed Serilinn, whose mouth dropped a little open in surprise.

“Truly?” she said.

“Aye. He was once of the Children of Ulmo. But he and his mother are mortal now.”

“I have not heard of them,” Serilinn said, “although Meleth sometimes sang of watery-folk, of a lady who lost her way, and of the Song of the Sea. I used to think she was of the watery-folk herself, she liked them so. She said she heard the sea calling to her, and could see the Light of Eärendil, it teased her very bones betimes, until she must set out over the waves or die of longing. And the Ringbearer is there, when she is not? I wish I could meet him.”

“I wish you could too,” Radagast sighed, “but I fear that is not to be. By the time I am ready to leave, he will surely be gone, for he is mortal also.”

“This Ringbearer,” Serilinn turned to Greenjade, “what is he like?”

“I have not met him,” Greenjade said. “I saw him in my dream, but I shall never meet him in this life. Radagast has met him; he is the one to ask.”

He barely refrained from looking at Sméagol. Serilinn turned her luminous eyes to the Wizard, who cleared his throat.

“In my vision,” he said, “he was most radiant and fair to look upon. Not many hobbits are, but he was different. Almost like an Elf, with wonderful eyes that seemed to see what most cannot. When I met him in the flesh, he was as one who has received a great wound, one that will not heal, and walked in lostness, unable to find his way back to the center of himself. Once I heard him laugh, a sound that still makes my heart glad to remember it. But it did not ring out often enough. But now, I know it comes often, and spills into all those who hear it as a cool refreshing fountain.”

“And the others?” Serilinn said. “The ones that walked with trees, and slew the troll, and the Witch-King? How were they?”

“Two of them have married, and one is betrothed, I hear. They were most entertaining chaps, always ready with a smile or a song or a tale. I can see why Olórin—Gandalf—sought out hobbits’ company. Elves can be rather grim, and men too warlike. But hobbits are a whole different breed.”

Sméagol belched just then, and she jerked her head about to look at him. He blushed and clapped a hand over his mouth. Greenjade scowled a little, but Radagast chuckled.

“That is a frog sound,” Serilinn said with a little smile. “I knew a man who could make animal sounds. He was very excellent at it. But I know not where he has gone. What other sounds can you make?”

“You should hear him do Gollum,” Greenjade said mischievously. Smeagol blushed some more and looked down.

Radagast bade Greenjade sit and rest for a while so he could go to the mill and buy flour. He would inquire of the miller the direction to the nearest village, he said, and would take Baran and Nilde with him. The others would be safe here in the daylight. But they must leave as soon as possible.

Sméagol said the stream flowed nearby, and he wanted to fish, so Greenjade and Serilinn followed him to it, and sat down in a grassy knoll near the bank while Sméagol took out his fishing gear. Serilinn watched with interest as he threaded the pole, then hooked a strange-looking object onto it. Gil Partridge had taught him to make a special kind of bait that resembled a sort of bug or fly, made of fur or feathers or both, and Sméagol had shown surprising skill in fashioning these. It had occupied much of his time on their days of rest. He had even fastened some of them into his cap, and Greenjade kept his opinion about it to himself.

“I have not looked at the day sky in very, very long,” Serilinn said leaning far back and gazing upward. “It looks very beautiful, yes? The feathery white things move swiftly like ships upon the blue sea. One wishes to sail with them. Where do they go?”

Greenjade had never really looked at the sky, save at night when the stars were particularly large and clear. He looked up now, and saw that it was indeed beautiful, clouds drifting high and pure and snowy, tinged with silvery blue in places, and the sky was astonishingly blue in the upper part, the sun blazing burning silver. Serilinn lay down on her back and looked up at it, and he did likewise.

“You are the first Elf I ever knew,” he said after they had looked for a while.

“Am I?” she said turning her head to look at him. “Yet you’ve an Elf-sister?”

“Aye, but I never met her, and never will. I saw her in my dream, but do not expect to do so again. So I suppose you will have to be my sister…for a while.” Greenjade smiled a little to show he was joking, yet he felt not at all jokey.

“Why are you mortal now?” she asked him, the jest lost on her. “Did you marry a mortal lady?”

“Nay, although…I came close to it once,” he tried to say lightly. “But she did not wish to come to Mordor with me, so it could not be.”

“And you lived in the Sea once?” she said. “And you heard the Music it made?”

“I made some of that music,” he said. She sat up abruptly, and looked into his face.

“Truly?” she said. Hers was a face one could not lie to.

“When I was very young,” he said. “Before all the trouble. Then I forgot what music was, and it forsook me. But here on land…I am learning it all over again. It is a far more complicated music on land.”

“Will you go back to the Sea sometime?”

“Nay, never. I betrayed it, you see. And so I lost it for all time. Now my destiny lies in Mordor. I must work it into a garden…and perhaps I will see Garland once more. If she will have me back again.”

“Garland…your wife?”

“Aye…she was. Perhaps she will be again. Perhaps I will be king of Mordor, and she will be my queen, and you can visit us in our palace.”

Serilinn rolled over until she was on her knees, gazing at him until he wondered what she could possibly be thinking, and it seemed she would say something of such profundity, he could never begin to fathom it, and yet it would stay with him for all time.

And then she sank back a bit, and smoothed down her skirt thoughtfully, then looked down at the rough brown fabric and at him again. She was so mind-piercingly, breath-takingly beautiful, it fairly broke his heart.

Duathris had looked like that once.

“I’m sorry about my gown,” Serilinn said softly. “I know it’s hideous. But it’s all I have.”

He gave a startled laugh. “No matter. I’ll get you a new one someday.”

“Truly?” she said clasping her hands.

“Truly,” he said. Sméagol turned then, looking at her in wonder. “When we get to the next village, I’ll see if I can find you a good dress or two.”

“I’m sorry about your silvers also,” she said.

“No matter about them,” Greenjade said. “I’m sorry about your…your mother. And your nurse, and the man who made the animal noises…and all the rest of it.”

She sat very still and silent for a long moment, and he feared he had said the wrong thing. Then Sméagol came shyly up to her, holding something in one hand.

“This for you,” he said. “I makes it for you.”

And he opened his hand, and there was what appeared to be a butterfly, which on closer inspection was made of feathers, cunningly arranged so that they formed actual wings, tied to a hook. Serilinn looked at it with wide eyes.

“How exquisite!” she said. “I scarcely dare touch it.”

“I makes him for you,” Sméagol repeated. “Here, I…” Then he spied a daisy growing nearby, and he reached over and plucked it, and hooked the butterfly in the middle of the daisy, then handed it to Serilinn. She took it then, gazing at it in utter delight.

“That’s an awfully pretty bit of fish-bait,” Greenjade said, feeling a twinge of jealousy, which he quickly suppressed.

“Not fishes’ bait,” Sméagol said. “Is only to look at. For her.”

Greenjade jumped to his feet and went for his pack, which he had brought with him to rest his head on, and found his carving-knife inside. He had made some carvings on during their trek, to pass the time, mostly of birds, which he stained with blackberry or pokeberry juice. He had sold some of them in the marketplace in the towns where they had stopped, and given others away, so he had no more left. They were rather unremarkable, on the whole, he thought, but people had reacted to them with enthusiasm.

He scrambled about until he found a piece of wood that would do, and came back to the bank.

“How long has it been since you had a doll?” he asked Serilinn.

“I had one long ago,” she said very softly. “I do not know what happened to it. Everything vanished from my old life.”

And he began whittling away at the light-colored wood as she watched.

“How do you know there is a doll in there?” she asked after something resembling a head began to appear. “Is there a spirit which guides you?”

“Could be,” he said with a gentle grin. Well, maybe there was, at that….

Then after a while she turned to Sméagol, saying, “Will you show me how you make your pretty insects?”

Sméagol beamed then, and dove for a bag he kept nearby, which was filled with bits of feathers and fur and leaves and twigs he had picked up along the way. Then he took a hook from a box where he kept his fishing-tackle and some string, chose some pretty feathers and began skillfully arranging them into a striking facsimile of fly wings, so that even Greenjade was impressed. Sméagol attached a silky bit of grey fur from a squirrel’s tale, and wound it with colored string, then held up the result for her admiration. She took it and turned it this way and that, touching it with a fingertip, squinting at it, then handing it back to him.

“May I try it?” she asked. Sméagol was fairly beaming. He dug in his box for another hook, then emptied the bag on the ground before her. She picked up several feathers until she found some that took her fancy, then he showed her how to attach them to the hook and tie them on. Greenjade whittled busily at his bit of wood as she made her first fly of pheasant and jay feathers and lynx fur.

“Look!” she cried as she held it out to Greenjade. “This is for you.”

Touched, he reached out and took it from her. “It is beautiful,” he said, awed at her artistry and the quickness with which she had learned. “Thank you.”

“I’ll make you one also,” she said to Sméagol, “and for the Wizard also.”

Before long, she had made half a dozen, and might have made more if Sméagol had not run out of hooks. Then he showed her how to cast the fly—she had to wade into the stream, which was rather cold, but she did not seem to mind. Finally Greenjade, forgetting he was supposed to be resting, had to set aside his whittling and get in on the fishing, not to be outdone, and found he was actually enjoying himself, although neither he nor Serilinn caught anything worth keeping. But Sméagol did land a very nice trout. Greenjade cleaned it and cut it up, saying he was confoundedly hungry, while Sméagol built up the fire, and Serilinn got out what was left of the flour and salt and oil. Sméagol cooked the fish, and dished it up for all.

“I said I would take no meat,” Serilinn said, “but this tastes far too good. I fear I will not be able to keep the promise, save for the dry deer. Does anyone mind if I lick my fingers?”

It was after noon when Radagast returned with the bag of flour, as well as a jar of honey, a dozen eggs, and a pound of butter.

“I’ve a nice piece of news,” he said. “There’s a village just a mile away from the mill. Also, the miller and his wife have invited us over to his home for dinner. We must go immediately--the sooner we leave here, while they are asleep, the better. But what’s this? You’ve been busy while I was gone, what?”

Serilinn shyly presented him the fly she had made for him, as Greenjade and Sméagol grinned rather fatuously at each other. Radagast took it and looked at it in wonder.

“I know you do not eat fish,” she said, “but I thought you may like to have a pretty bug to look at. You may pin it to your robe if you wish. I think it would look most striking.”

With an almost silly grin, he pinned the fly to where he might have put a brooch, saying, “Thank you very much, my dear. It does look striking indeed, and I shall be proud to wear it. Look, the miller even loaned me a horse. I did leave some silver with him as a pledge of trust, but he said I should have it back when I return the horse. Greenjade shall ride him, and Serilinn, you can ride on Baran, while Sméagol and I carry our things. They will also put us up for the night, although I don’t wish to impose on their hospitality for longer than that. And they’ve a daughter who has some clothes laid away that she has outgrown, so perhaps Serilinn can wear them…although—ahem—they will have to be taken in considerably, but her mother said she could do that. I told them you were an orphan we had rescued from some folk who were ill-treating you. I regret that I could not tell them how you saved Greenjade and all that, but I think it better if they remain in ignorance of the whole truth, which will likely only frighten and upset them. So let us clean up after ourselves, and be going.”

Greenjade had ridden a horse but once before, and the experience had not been a very pleasant one. However, for Serilinn’s sake he put on a gallant grin, and mounted the gelding as if riding were as natural as walking to him. Radagast helped her onto Baran’s back.

“I have not ridden a beast before,” she said. “I hope this one does not mind my lack of experience.”

“I’ll lead him along,” Radagast said. “You needn’t do a thing but just ride. He is quite docile. And we haven’t so far to go; it is less than a mile.”

Greenjade’s smile faded as his horse seemed a trifle uncooperative. Yes, he knew Radagast could calm the beast if need be, but it would be most embarrassing. Like a fool, he stroked the horse’s neck, saying, “There now…” in suave accents, trying to think of an excuse to get down and walk, saying he felt fine now….

Then Serilinn began to sing. Her voice was incredibly clear and rich, resonating like a thrush’s call in the forest, and suddenly the horse stopped jerking and snorting and began walking along quite peaceably.

Knowest thou the country far and green
Where golden fruits bloom near the snow-white shore
Where the grey rain curtain turns to silver glass
There I would dwell with thee forever more.

Hast thou seen the marble palace fair
With glittering lights and statues by the door
That seem to say, Poor child, what have they done to thee?
‘Tis there that I would dwell with thee forever more….*

~*~*~

*based on Goethe's song "Kennst du das Land" from Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship



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