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31
On the Wagon


Greenjade did manage to fall into a troubled sleep later on, and Serilinn brought up more soup, this time with chunks of meat, beans, and vegetables left over from the previous night’s dinner, along with bread, fruit, and a small glass with sprigs of goldenrod and gentian in it. Her hair hung in a long braid, which she said Cammie made for her. She asked him if he felt better, and he said he did, although he did not think he was very convincing. She had brought up soup for herself also, minus the meat chunks, and they ate their lunch together at the table. She set Eglenbain up on a chair brought from another room, and put a bowl of water at the entling’s place, and she tried to train it to pick up the bowl and drink it, then gave it up saying perhaps he was too young yet.

“I think it's just being stubborn,” Greenjade said.

“Perhaps he just has an aversion to the wooden bowl,” she said. “If only we had a clay one. Perhaps Radagast could find one for us, or I could make one.”

Greenjade managed a smile. “You will make a wonderful mother someday,” he said.

As soon as the words were out of his mouth he regretted them, feeling he had inadvertently reminded her that her own mother was as poor an excuse for one as could be imagined, but before he could say anything else, she popped up out of her chair and ran to the window.

“Radagast is back!” she said looking back at him with a radiant face.

“Wonderful,” he said trying to fake a bit of enthusiasm, and glad she did not seem to notice how flat the effort had fallen.

“He has something,” she said leaning her dark head far out the window. “Pepper is driving his father’s wagon, but…Greenjade, come and see!”

Unenthusiastically, Greenjade rose and went to the window. Yes, there they were, but…what was this? Pepper was indeed driving the Widdicomb wagon, with Sméagol by his side, but Radagast was driving another…with a cover, no less. Nilde was running alongside of it.

“Well, I’ll be…shot,” Greenjade said. “Where did he get that?”

“In town, I guess,” Serilinn bounced a little in her excitement. “Let’s go down and see--oh, wait, you can’t. Well, he’ll come and tell us...“

“Yes, I can,” he said. “Let’s go, shall we? Let me put this on...” He reached for the dressing-gown he had worn the previous night and slipped it on, then quickly finger-combed his hair. He supposed he still looked terrible, but he didn’t care. “Now I’m ready.”

They went downstairs, hand in hand, and were met by Cammie, who came running up saying, “Come see Mr. Radagast’s new wagon! It’s splendid!”

They went down and out the front door. Radagast was climbing down from the wagon, which was hitched to a very fine big chestnut gelding with a white streak down his muzzle, and white stockings, black mane and tail.

Serilinn ran to Radagast and they embraced. She hugged Sméagol also, and then Nilde. Pepper drove off to the stable. Rusco flew up from the Wizard’s shoulder into a tree, where he waited for the excitement to diminish.

“Hullo!” the Wizard called out to Greenjade and Mrs. Widdicomb and Cammie, who stood off gaping. He looked happy about his new acquisition and yet somehow sad also. “How do you like it?”

Greenjade came closer to inspect. The wagon was painted a rather unattractive shade of brown, and he could see lettering through the paint. The cover was in blue, red and yellow canvas.

“I decided a wagon would get us to where we’re going much faster than on foot,” Radagast explained in an undertone to Greenjade, with a sidelong glance at Serilinn, who was talking to Cammie and Mrs. Widdicomb now. Sméagol, as usual, was petting Nilde. Ellory and Mallory Widdicomb were coming from the mill, to see what all the fuss was about. “And since ‘they’ can’t come in without being invited, I thought a covered wagon would keep us safer. Pepper told us this morning that he knew of someone who had one for sale. The chap used to run a sort of ‘traveling show’, selling remedies--probably of a rather dubious nature--all over the countryside, but he met a young maiden and fell in love, and her father would not let her marry him unless he gave up his ‘trade.’ As it happens, her father is a blacksmith, and so the fellow is going to learn blacksmithing. But before he can begin his apprenticeship, he must sell his wagon so that the father can see he is serious about marrying the daughter. Actually it was the horse we bought; the man said he would throw in the wagon for a very small sum, since it is not in the best of condition. The singletree is slightly damaged and will need to be fixed before we can resume our journey. Also there’s a hole in the cover that wants patching. Another coat of paint would not hurt its appearance, either. These things will not take long to put to rights, I’m sure.”

“But where is Baran?” Serilinn spoke up, having come up, along with Cammie, behind Greenjade. He started, then remembered what had been missing.

Radagast looked sorrowful then. “I had to trade him in partial payment for the horse,” he said. “I am sorry. We will all miss him, but it is unreasonable to expect him to be able to keep up with us, and we cannot feed him and the horse both. And I can see the fellow is a good man by the condition of his horse, which has obviously been well looked after. I am absolutely certain he will have an excellent home with him and his future bride, or I would never have turned him over to them. I’m sorry, little one, I know you were fond of him. So was I. But it had to be done.”

“Baran was a nice donkey, and I enjoyed riding him,” Serilinn said. “I hope they’ll be very good to him.”

“’E’s a mighty pretty ‘orse,” Cammie said timidly approaching the beast and looking up at him with her hands behind her back. “Wot’s ‘is name?”

“Brego,” Radagast said. “A kingly name. Actually it was Dobby, but I thought he deserved something much more dignified, so I renamed him. I hope he will like it.”

“Yes, ‘Brego’ is a much better name,” Serilinn said stroking Brego’s muzzle. “He’s very beautiful. And he has much dignity. I can see him drawing a king’s carriage, or riding into battle in a gold horse helmet and gemmed bridle.”

Radagast chuckled. “Aye, too bad he has to pull this very common-looking wagon instead. But I think he will come to like us very quickly, and won’t mind how the wagon looks.”

“So we’ll be staying longer then?” Greenjade spoke up.

“Aye, but not for three months. Three days, perhaps. I doubt it will take much longer than that to fix things up. And I’m calling a town meeting tomorrow.”

“Yer’ll be ‘ere longer then?” Cammie said to Serilinn. “Goody!”

Serilinn smiled at her, but Greenjade had a feeling she had wished to be on the way also.

Sméagol looked rather happy about it, himself.

“Greenjade, how are you feeling now?” Radagast asked him. “I am sorry, in all the excitement I forgot you were ill. You should not be out here, you know. Back indoors with you, now. I’ll come up as soon as we take the wagon and unhitch it and put Brego in the stable.”

Greenjade sneezed. If my illness were all that were wrong with me now, he thought. But he turned and went indoors as directed, followed by Serilinn, then Cammie, then Mrs. Widdicomb, all of them happily chattering and not noticing his demeanor. He went upstairs by himself and lay face down on the bed.

He could hear Darkfin chuckling somewhere close by.

Why was it not possible to erase the past? Must it haunt one forever?

Nearly a quarter of an hour later he heard a tap on his door. He did not answer, knowing the door would open in another moment, and it did. It was Radagast.

“Why do I have the feeling there’s more wrong with you than a mere cold?” he said, coming to Greenjade’s bedside.

“Most likely, because a cold is the least of what’s wrong with me,” Greenjade muttered into his pillow.

“Well,” the Wizard said, when no explanation was forthcoming, “do you wish to tell me about it, or what? Contrary to what you might think, I haven’t the talent for reading minds. I can see that what is wrong goes beyond the ills of the body, that is all.”

Greenjade raised himself on one elbow. “I do not think it is anything you could fix,” he said, a bit surprised at himself. “You see…I think…the other night, when they took my blood, they put a poison in me that opened the way for…”

He hesitated, trying to think of an explanation that wouldn’t sound utterly stupid.

“A way for what?” Radagast asked. “You may tell me. I told Serilinn and Sméagol I wished to talk to you alone, and asked them not to come in here until I indicated that they might. She it was who told me something was troubling you, and asked me to help you. So. A way for what?”

“Darkfin.” There. It was out. “I…well, I feel like a fool, but he’s been haunting me most of the day. Not sure how it came about, but while I was here with Serilinn, he just appeared, somewhere out of nowhere, and started…haunting me. Taunting me with my past. It was horrible. He said he’d never leave me, he’d be with me until the rest of my days, and I’d never be happy, likely I’d go mad, and…well, I think I should go to Mordor without you. By myself. I’m afraid of what he might make me do. For I can’t shake him. He constantly taunts me, shows me the girls I ruined, the things that happened to them…. Actually Nell told me something of the same, but it did not register so much with me then. She said did I ever stop to think of the consequences of my actions, how I made them feel, the…the bastard children they might have had. And it’s true, I didn’t stop, nor did I care. I was proud of my seductive arts. And now I can only think…”

“Greenjade. That was not Darkfin. It was Morgoth.”

“Be that as it may. No matter who it was, he was right. I never thought about the consequences, nor did I care. And now…it’s too late. I think of them now. And can do nothing about them. And I’ll never be able to stop thinking of it…”

“Greenjade…” Radagast sat down beside him on the bed and laid a hand on his shoulder. “Morgoth is a liar. Don’t you know that by now?”

“Yes, but he can tell the truth also, can he not?”

“Aye, that he can…yet in this instance, he was not. Sea-folk cannot impregnate mortals, unless they become mortal themselves, Greenjade. Did you truly not know that? Obviously you did not.”

“What?” Greenjade sat up straighter. “I…you mean…”

Radagast laughed a little. “I know something of the Children of Ulmo,” he said. “Did you think I did not? Whether or not any other male sea-folk ever went onto land for any period of time before you did, I know not. But I do know that there is something in their seed that is incompatible with the eggs of land-folk, and impregnation is not possible. If a male marries a ‘landish’ female, he will become of her kind, and then he can father children with her. However, in his sea-form…”

“Why did I not know this myself?” Greenjade wondered how it was possible to be so happy. Then he sobered. What if it were Radagast who was lying, in order to make him feel better, so he would not have to deal with a remorse-ridden mortal all through the journey? He had proven he was not above stretching the truth, or leaving out parts of it, in order to protect another. What if he were outright lying now, for that same purpose?

“Is this true, what you tell me?” Greenjade asked him, looking him straight in the eye. “Why didn’t I know it?”

“Well, perhaps you are the first of your kind to travel on land,” Radagast said with a smile that was unmistakably ingenuous. “And so you were not told. Mind, this does not excuse your past actions. If you did indeed act without a thought to the consequences, that was reprehensible of you. However, you did pay the price, and now you have obviously grown a conscience, and may consider yourself fully human.”

Greenjade felt like bursting into tears once more, and might have done so if he were alone. His elation flared down a bit, thinking of what might have been. What if he HAD been able to impregnate those women, and Radagast were lying or mistaken? What then?

“So,” the Wizard said, giving Greenjade a light slap on the shoulder, “I want you to lie down on that bed and let the rest of us wait on you for the next couple of days. I doubt your ‘visitor’ will bother you much again. Just remember that Darkfin is dead, and Greenjade can do better, and will continue to strive toward it. And where you’ll go at the end of it all, Darkfin will most certainly never be able to follow.”

~*~*~

Sméagol must surely have wondered why Greenjade kept beaming so beatifically at him, and talking so chummily, all through the rest of the day. And why he did not grumble at having to stay at the Widdicomb home for a few more days, and why he cracked jokes every time he sneezed, and sang snatches of songs he remembered from The Quail and Pheasant, and laughed so hard at something Serilinn told him that he literally fell on the floor, hurting his hip and barely even noticing. Sméagol probably went down to ask Radagast what was in the medication he had given him and to please give him less of it, or come up with another remedy.

And Greenjade gave all his silver to Radagast saying, “Here’s my part for the horse and wagon. I’ll just keep a few for protection.”

“Nay, good fellow. Sméagol and I will take a bit for protection, and you may keep the rest. Oh, by the way, I almost forgot—here’s your staff. I had the tip reinforced for you. Look at it, if you please.”

Greenjade looked. “Silver?”

“Aye. The blacksmith must have thought I was a trifle cracked, but he went ahead and did as I asked. I explained everything to Mrs. Widdicomb before I left, and she gave me some silverware and told me to do with it what I must. I’m having chains made for all of us, but it will take a few days. And I’m calling a town meeting tomorrow.”

“How did you get the word out so quickly?”

“Well, the people come to the town square once a week to hear the news. There’s a fellow whose job it is to collect it and tell it. According to Pepper, the people greatly look forward to News Day; it’s quite an event with them. They dress up nicely, bring food, and such things. Sometimes they make quite a production of the news if it’s something out of the ordinary. For instance, if someone has been killed, then they act out the killing in the square. I scarcely consider that to be in good taste, but it’s not for me to say. And no, I dare say it would not be a good idea to act out the sort of thing I shall be telling them. Anyway, it so happens that tomorrow is News Day. And I will tell them a few things about the menace that lurks in the countryside, and give them ways to be prepared for it, and to guard against it. It’s really all I can do. You and Serilinn need not go with me; I can handle it by myself. Nay, I forbid you to go with me,” he said as Greenjade seemed about to protest. “I want you here in bed resting, do you hear me? I’ll not have you coming down with a chill because you have some silly need to prove your manhood.”

“Yes, I suppose it would be a good idea for Serilinn to stay here,” Greenjade said. “Even though I would hate to deprive her of the delights of ordinary doings. Are you sure we cannot bring her to Mordor with us? I dare say it is not the place it was seven years ago.”

“I would not take her there,” Radagast said. “Aye, we all have lost our hearts to her, and I dare say it will be even harder to part with her than with Nilde. But we must consider her safety and well-being, and put it above our own desires if we are to accomplish anything at our destination.”

Greenjade’s elation collapsed and the emptiness returned. “I think it will be even harder than parting with Nell was,” he said, his throat tightening. “For I love her no less, although in a different way, a way I do not know how to explain.”

“I know, my lad,” Radagast said with a sigh. “I think I understand. Sméagol and I love her because she is endearing, but with you, it goes beyond that. You and she saved each other from a fate almost too horrible to think about, and there will always be that bond between you. You are her savior and she is yours. I suppose your one comfort must be in knowing she will be happy…and we cannot even be sure of that. Her future is veiled to us.”

“If it only were not so hard,” Greenjade said, and tears sprang into his eyes and he did not even try to hide them.

“Aye, life is that,” Radagast said. “Oh, and there is a slight change of plans. I think we should stop at the capital of Gondor first off, and see the King. Perhaps he can arrange for a ship to take her to Valinor. I’ve already sent a letter off to him this morning. I thought of asking him to send his reply to Faramir and we would receive it there, but I think it better if we go there in person. I think Serilinn would love to see Minas Tirith. I would love to see it also—I have not seen it in hundreds of years. Perhaps the King may even take her under his protection, although I think Ithilien would suit her better. More lush green countryside and natural beauty abounding there, not so many reminders of battle and bloodshed about. We’ll see when we get there. In the meantime, let us try to enjoy the time we have left with her, and do what we can to give her the inner healing and protection she needs.”

“Do you know what she told me?” Greenjade said. “She said perhaps she ‘deserved’ what they did to her. Can you imagine? What could that sweet child possibly have done to deserve such horror?”

“It’s not uncommon for victims of extreme abuse to believe they deserve the treatment they get,” Radagast said. “Sometimes their abusers convince them they deserve it in order to justify their own actions and keep the victims silent. I’m just amazed she seems as pure and untouched as she does.”

“She said Gaergath drugged her,” Greenjade said. “I just wish I had him here.” He glanced over at his staff. Radagast nodded.

“I do not hold with violence of any sort,” he said, “but…I am sure I AM capable of it. And I do not like this in myself.”

“I think it can be justified in some circumstances,” Greenjade said. His fingers fairly itched to seize the staff…and then it seemed he heard laughter.

Darkfin’s laughter.



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