“I don’t suppose we could get a warm bath tonight?” Radagast asked his hostess. “We’ll be happy enough to do the preparations ourselves, for I can see you are very tired from preparing the sumptuous dinner we have enjoyed.”
“We got but two tubs,” Mrs. Widdicomb said, “but feel free to use ‘em. Everything yer’ll need is in the bathin’ room downstairs.”
Half an hour later Greenjade and Sméagol were glorying in the hottest bath they had enjoyed in nearly two months. Then Radagast took his turn, with Pepper in the smaller tub, and finally Serilinn and Cammie. Serilinn found a nightgown laid out for her in her own size. Mattie had brought it over while the girls were bathing.
It was hers to keep, Mrs. Widdicomb said.
Greenjade went to the room that had been assigned to him and Sméagol, to find pots of steaming water with leaves floating in them, giving off a fragrance of sweet grass that took him poignantly back to a happier time.
Radagast said the scent would help clear his sinuses.
Greenjade was a little worried about Serilinn, and Radagast said he would go up to check on her. Both men went up, in dressing-gowns borrowed from Ellory and Pepper, carrying candles, to find her sitting on her bed cradling Eglenbain and humming.
“Will you be all right by yourself tonight, little one?” Radagast asked her. “Perhaps Cammie could come stay with you…except I see there’s only the one bed and it’s too narrow for the both of you.”
“I’m not by myself,” she said, but did not sound so confident. “I’ve Eglenbain, see?”
Greenjade had a notion she was going to sleep with the entling in her bed.
Then he happened to glance out one of the windows, and started at the sight of something in a great oak in the moonlight. Its eyes seemed to glow with orange fire.
Greenjade went over and drew the curtain.
“You’ve a light to burn?” Radagast said. Serilinn nodded at the candle that burned on the little bed-table. “I’d best put it on the chest of drawers, lest you knock it over in your sleep. Here is your night-draught to sweeten your dreams. Now, my lass, do not open that window to anything, will you promise me that?”
“Aye, I will,” she said, “but you know they cannot come into a house unless invited.”
“I know, but I would take no chances. I’ve a feeling they are very wily. You’re wearing the locket?”
She pulled it out from under the nightgown to show him.
“It’s common silver,” Radagast said. “I’ve a feeling it would be all the more efficacious if it were mithril. Can you open the locket?”
She opened it. “Look, there is hair in it,” she exclaimed holding up a grey curl.
“Probably Miss Carrie’s mother’s hair,” Radagast said. “Put it in the drawer of the bed-table, and put this in the locket…” He drew out a coin from the pocket of the dressing-gown and placed it in the round locket and closed it. “There, perhaps that will be more…”
“Efficacious?” she said, and he smiled.
“That’s my lass,” he said, and bent down to kiss her brow. Greenjade did the same.
Then was startled by a flurry of wings from outside the window where the owl had been.
In the morning Greenjade awoke with a full-fledged cold.
Radagast had to gather up handkerchiefs from all family members. Fortunately there were many.
“Yer can tell the quality of folks by their hankies,” Mrs. Widdicomb said. Greenjade didn’t know what to make of that.
After setting about more bowls of steaming water and leaves and rubbing Greenjade’s chest with the balm, Radagast said he had to go into town, and he was taking Sméagol and Pepper with him, and Baran too, and Nildë. He would leave Serilinn here with Greenjade .
“And do not exert yourself,” the Wizard said with an uplifted forefinger. “We want you well as soon as possible. We are most definitely NOT staying here for three months.”
“I should hope not,” Greenjade said in an undertone.
After the Wizard had gone, Serilinn came up to Greenjade’s room with a large tray.
“I told Mrs. Widdicomb I would attend you,” she said smiling. “Cammie must help her mother in the kitchen now.”
“Thanks be to Eru for that,” he said smiling also. “What have we here?”
There was broth, made from “one of the birds”, also half a loaf of light bread, sliced, with butter and honey. She said the honey would soothe his throat.
“Shall we take it to that little table over there,” he said. “I doubt I can balance this tray on my knees in this bed.”
“But Radagast made me promise not to let you exert yourself,” she exclaimed.
“I misdoubt it will exert me much to get up and sit at that table,” he said smiling. And so they went to the table, where he told her to take some too if she liked. She said she had eaten already, but she would very much like a slice of the bread and butter.
She was wearing the stable-boy’s clothes, minus the hat and cloak and boots. She liked the boots very much. However, she thought it best to save them for the journey.
“Better you should start wearing them now,” Greenjade said, “for to get used to them. Then they won’t be as likely to blister your feet.”
“I’ll put them on now, then,” she said rising. “I need to check on Eglenbain anyway. Did you pass a good night?”
“I was about to ask you that,” he said. “I was a bit worried about you.”
“No need for that,” she said smiling. “They cannot get into the house without being invited.”
“I know, but I was worried about you being alone. I was afraid it would be hard for you.”
“It was hard, until I fell asleep. I had to close the door, for Cammie snores, and so does Pepper. I think this entire house snores. Do you think we will find Eglenbain’s mother?”
“I can just see Radagast going about asking folks on the street, ‘Pardon me, but you wouldn’t happen to have seen any trees walking about, would you?’” Greenjade said with twinkling eyes. She giggled.
“Oh by the way,” she said, lowering her voice to a whisper, “Cammie thinks you are very good looking.”
He devoutly wished she had waited until he had swallowed his broth before delivering that bit of news. Fortunately he had a handkerchief handy. She took that opportunity to go and get her boots, along with Eglenbain.
After getting back into bed, he took out his carving tools and Serilinn’s doll, and soon she came back in, saying, “Look, he can walk!”
She was holding the entling by the hand, and yes, the thing was walking…very slowly to be sure, taking its time about putting one foot forward, then the other. Its eyes were wide open now, a startling golden brown in color, and it had eyelashes, little spiky black ones, and its skin, or bark or whatever, was light grey and rather smooth, its arms well shaped and rounded. Its leaves were a bright green-yellow.
“He was in the hall,” Serilinn explained. “It’s fortunate the others are downstairs. And that he does not walk swiftly.”
Greenjade had trouble to keep from laughing aloud, wondering what the Widdicombs’ reactions would have been if they had seen that thing wandering about the hallway.
“I brought my work also,” Serilinn said holding up a little sack. “Mattie’s little sisters want feather-flies. How much of the doll have you done?”
He held it up for her inspection.
“Look, the face looks a bit like yours now,” he said, “only not nearly as lovely, of course. I shall carve the arms and legs separately, and hinge them on with little metal rods put through the shoulders and hips, so that they can be moved. And I will need a lock or two of your hair. I don’t know what we’ll do for clothing. Can you sew?”
“A little.” She gazed at it in wonder, turning it over and over, then handing it back. “You’re so good, Greenjade. I may never get to meet the Ringbearer…but at least, I know his son. I am extremely glad we saved each other.”
The morning air was fresh and cool through the open window, where the sun shone through leaves of brilliant crimson and gold and bronze that glowed like jars of jelly in the light.
“I’m not good,” Greenjade said later, as he morosely carved away at the doll’s torso. “Not good at all. I have done evil in my life. I deserved to be in that Place, not but what I am glad to be out…”
He was not sure why he was telling Serilinn this. There was something about her eyes that disturbed him profoundly. There was something like adoration in them, and yet he had a feeling they saw more than the surface of things. It seemed they could see right into his soul, see the darkness there…she could see Darkfin. No, Darkfin was dead. Greenjade was a new creation, a whole different being…but no, he knew better.
Perhaps…Darkfin had returned, with Duathris’ poison. He was inside, laughing at Greenjade’s pitiful attempts to be good. He would get out someday and destroy all that was good and pure about him.
Somehow Serilinn’s eyes were magnifying the horror of it. She was his conscience, small and quiet and gentle as she was. He would never escape the guilt, the knowledge, the oppressiveness of self.
“You are not evil, Greenjade,” she said as she held up a finished butterfly. “And please be careful with the knife. If you cut yourself deeply, you will have to be sewed, and that will hurt.”
He was silent. Perhaps he was talking too much. She did not need to know of Darkfin’s doings.
“Let’s not talk of me anymore,” he said. “Let’s talk about you instead. What did you do of nights? When they…well, you know. Did they leave you all alone, or…”
She looked at the butterfly she was holding. He regretted asking her then, and was about to say she need not answer, when she spoke.
“I do not remember much. Gaergath drugged me, so I would forget. They took my blood, but each one had to take only a little, for there was not enough for all to feed completely. Some would drink from animals, and others would go into towns or villages. I think they took me with them sometimes. I believe they gave shows sometimes, or parties, or dancing. I can remember hearing music. Perhaps I sang, also. There were many who sang. The orcs, they would only become beautiful when they took my blood. If they drank only animal blood, or mortal blood, they remained ugly.”
“Were they all orcs?” Greenjade shuddered. Darkfin might have been one of them, once…he would have taken blood from this beautiful small being to make himself powerful.
“Nay, some were elves, some were mortals. Gaergath, he was of the Maiar, I think. He knew of much magic, and lore, and spells, and could change his own shape, because of his cloak. He—“
“Wait. His cloak?”
“Aye. If he had it not, he could not change his shape. He could be a great bat, or bird, or some other thing. Some of the others could do that, although not as well as he could.”
“Your cloak,” Greenjade said sitting up a little straighter and laying down the knife and doll, “do you have it still?”
“I do not know. Radagast said he would burn it. But it does not give me special power. They made me wear it so I would look as one of them…What is it? Did I say something wrong?”
“Of course not,” Greenjade nearly let the knife slip again.
“You looked…I don’t know, like…”
“If I looked angry, it was not with you, dear one,” he said. “It was with those who did such hideous things to you. I would kill all of them, and make them suffer, and not regret it at all.”
But you would once have been one of them, Darkfin said.
“Perhaps I deserved them,” Serilinn suggested. “Duathris said I did.”
“Duathris was a liar,” Greenjade said before he could stop himself. “What could you possibly have done to deserve all that?”
“I don’t know,” she said with trembling lips, “but there are a good many things I do not remember. Perhaps…during those times, I did bad things.”
“I doubt that,” he said, more gently. “Likely, they told you that you deserved it, so that they could keep you down, have more control over you. It is what evil folk do.”
“I wish I could remember some things,” she said, “and yet, I am afraid to. I am afraid of what I might have done.”
“Did they ever…touch you improperly?” He felt stupid for asking, even as he did so. And wished he had not. He was not sure why he had.
“I do not remember,” she said looking at him with eyes so dark and afraid, he wished he could unsay the words he had spoken. “I…I remember so few things. I…”
“I am sorry, love,” he said, tears springing into his own eyes. “I should not have brought it up at all. I am just glad I was able to get you away from them. I tell you what: I feel as if I could take a nap now. Why don’t you go down and play with Cammie for a while? Or go out into the garden and admire the flowers…so long as you do not stray out of the yard.”
“Cammie does not play; she helps her mother,” Serilinn said. “She is only allowed two hours in the afternoon to amuse herself. But I could go and help her.”
“Aye, you can do that. Just don’t stray out of the yard. Will you promise me you won’t?”
“I promise.” And she stood and bent down and kissed him on the forehead. “Wait—what shall I do with Eglenbain?”
“Leave it with me,” Greenjade said, although he wished he might bid her take the entling with her. The thing gave him the creeps. “We can nap together,” he said with a gallant little smile.
“Very well then.” She smiled back. “I will go down now, and bring you luncheon after a while. Do you want me to build up the fire a bit for you?”
“Yes, please do.”
She went to the stove, then on a thought went over to the entling and laid a napkin over its face.
“It may upset him to see me putting wood on the fire,” she said by way of explanation. Greenjade managed a crooked smile.
She took the tray and went out, after laying Eglenbain down on a small couch.
Greenjade tried to sleep, but felt restless, and he needed to use the privy anyway, so he rose, forgetting the chamber pot beneath the bed, and went out into the hallway. He heard a voice downstairs—Rodey, crying about something or other her bridegroom had done, as far as Greenjade could make out, and then he heard her mother telling her she would just have to take the bitter with the sweet. This sounded interesting, and he was tempted to slip down and eavesdrop, but supposed he’d sneeze and get caught out, so he went into the privy and did what he must, then went back into the bedroom and stood by the window. He could see the mill from here, Ellory and Mallory Widdicomb hard at work shouldering bags of meal and piling them into a wagon. He wondered what Nell was doing now. He hoped she was happy; on the one hand, and on the other could scarcely help but resent the fact that he would never get to see the child he knew she was carrying. Would it be a boy or a girl, would it look like him, or like her, what would it be like?
What about your other children? Darkfin’s voice taunted him. Those other little bastards you sired, running about who knows where in Middle-earth. Wondering who their father was, and why folks treat them like rubbish, and won’t allow them to associate with their own little brats. The girls, when they grow up, what will become of them? Will they have to sell themselves in order to get by, since no respectable man will have them? .
Shut it, Greenjade told him, absurdly pressing his hands over his ears.
You’ll never escape me, you know. No matter what a wonderful job you do cleaning up Mordor. No matter if Garland does come to you, and you marry her and have a cozy little home and a dozen children. You only think I am dead, well, I’m as real to you as those creatures the other night. And someday I’ll take over. You will see. You are weak, Greenjade. You cannot keep me down. I will best you. It was I in the tree, you see. Their poison opened the gateway into your soul. I live there, and as much as you wish you could evict me, you never will. You might as well get used to me. In time you’ll even come to love me, and then the two of us will be one. Two birds in a nest. All the silver in the world won’t keep me away.
Greenjade’s legs felt wobbly and he went over to sit on the bed, pressing his hands to his forehead, wishing Radagast would return.
Radagast cannot help you, Darkfin said laughing. You’ll end up destroying him. Her too. That what you want? You cannot save them. And you will end up in The Place. Back to where you started. You pitiful weakling.
Greenjade found his knife and the doll, and for a moment he thought he saw its eyes looking at him reproachfully, and remembered the frightened expression in Serilinn’s eyes. He had sent her out, fearing what Darkfin would do, make her fear him for all time. He could not have that. Somehow he would just have to manage not to be alone with her.
He began carving at the doll again. Perhaps as long as he kept his hands busy…and then it seemed Darkfin was laughing at him once more. Yet he kept on. And finally he began to feel sleepy, and he fought the feeling, fearing Darkfin would enter his dreams, seeing as how he had none of the draught-powder to keep the demons away. If only he had his stepfather’s Book….
He cannot help you. He is far away, and you will never meet him. In this life or the next. You are not worthy of him, and never will be.
Liar, Greenjade said silently.
Call me whatever you wish. Look at that poor wench, alone with the rum-soaked ruffian in the filthy room, forcing himself upon her, she is your daughter, is she not? Look at him ripping apart her bodice, devouring her with his lustful eyes, putting his grubby paws on her! Look at her mother, that you tumbled in the haymow so joyfully, she is now old before her time, her beauty all gone, working in the ale-house among rough men to support her bastard children! You had your fun, she had the pain and the disgrace! And she will die early, alone and in poverty, and her daughter…oh, you were a sight to see! Now look at that girl…she was impregnated, and tried to get rid of it so none should know. And she bled to death in her room and was found by her mother in the morning, in her blood-soaked bed. See her mother wailing for her child! Are you not proud of yourself, Greenjade? Ha! You were so proud of your seductive arts, your lovemaking techniques, were you not? And look at you now!
Go away and leave me be, you demon, Greenjade said. His hands trembled violently, holding the knife.
Why don’t you cut me out? It’s the only way you will ever be rid of me. And even then I’ll be part of you when you are back in the Dungeon. You will see every bastard child you ever sired, every innocent girl you ruined, every friend you betrayed, your mother’s eyes looking in anguish, your children playing in the garden forever apart from you.
Greenjade looked at the knife, clenching it so tightly his knuckles went white and his fingertips turned crimson.
Get. away. from me. Go. Now.
You’ll never have me.
I have you now. Go ahead. Do your good deeds. As many as you like. There will be no pleasure in them for you, for I will be looking over your shoulder all the while. Had nice times, did you? I hope you enjoyed them for there will be no sweetness in the memory of them for you. Are you glad you saved that girl now?
Yes, I am.
But it won’t make you happy. And someday she will come to find you too frightening or too depressing, and will drift away from you. Or she will decide she cannot deal with your past misdeeds. You will lose her.
I will lose you. If I keep to my chosen path, one way or another, I will lose you. And at the end of it all, you will be gone, and I will be happy.
No matter. I will be with you all the way, and make the path bitter for you. Perhaps I will even succeed in swaying you from it. I may drive you mad. Then we will be together for all time, like those twins we once saw, joined to each other at the hip. There you have it. Now get up, and pace about the room, and look out the window at what will never be yours, just as you did in That Place. I am all the company you will ever have. The others will withdraw. Alas, poor Greenjade. So sad to be so alone, with no companion but me. Look at that poor weed of a thing, on that couch. You’d like to pick it up and chuck it into the fire, wouldn’t you? Go ahead and do it. The sooner you lose her, the better. Then you will be spared some of the pain of losing her later on.
Greenjade heard running light footsteps on the stairs, and he went back to the bed and sat down heavily upon it, just as Serilinn opened the door.
“Greenjade, are you all right?” she asked breathlessly. “I heard you talking to someone.”
“I was having a bad dream,” he said with an attempt at a smile.
“Oh,” she said, “you are worse now! Poor you. I will bring you some more soup if you like.”
“Nay, dearest, I do not feel like any just now,” he said, abandoning any attempt at a smile, knowing he would never smile again. He could see she knew something was terribly wrong, could see the despair in his face, and he wished he could hide it so that she could be assured and be happy in his sham happiness.
She went to him and put her arms around him, laying her head on his shoulder, and he held her tightly and wept, feeling he could never stop until he fell dead and empty.