“That…that thing,” Cammie whispered, pointing to Eglenbain, who was clinging to Serilinn and crying once more. “It…hit’s makin’ noise. Hit’s movin’. What is it? Hit’s…alive…yer said it was a plaything….”
She had backed up against the wall in the hallway, her round face white and terrified, the freckles standing out in tan splotches.
“He won’t hurt you,” Serilinn said. “He’s an ent. He’s only a baby. He’s frightened.”
“Don’t come no closer,” Cammie whimpered, stretching her plump little hands outward, then shielding her own face with her arms. “Stay back…please…”
“I’m staying here. He won’t hurt you, dear, I promise. Perhaps you should go down the cellar with the dogs.”
“I’m afraid of them,” Serilinn said. “There’s that big closet, you could go in it? He cannot open doors.”
“Nay nay…I’m afeared of the dark.”
“So am I. I will go up, then and sit on the middle of the stairs. He cannot climb up or down stairs.”
Up in her room, Greenjade could hear her voice, and he knew he had to take action.
The trouble was that once again he could not move.
He could scarcely even lean his head out the window to look at the black-cloaked, black-hooded creatures with the torches below.
They stood all around the house…or all around the front, motionless, as the tallest knocked at the door. And then Greenjade heard his voice. That ruined voice.
“Come to the door, my friends,” it called softly, as it raised its own torch high. “We are all around, we have you surrounded. You know what we want. Send her out, or the house will go up in flames. The stable also. Send her out.”
Greenjade heard the door open. Then another voice spoke. Radagast’s.
“Gaergath, I take it?” he said.
“Aye, so you know my name,” Gaergath said, and it seemed he smiled, as he casually pushed back his hood. “And you are…Radagast the Brown? I have heard of you. Well met.”
Greenjade felt icy sweat break out all over himself, hearing that voice once more. He cursed his own cowardice then, his inability to carry out his plan. Where were Pepper…and Sméagol?
“Why do you want this innocent lass?” Radagast was asking. “What is she to you?”
Why was he asking what he already knew?
“She belongs to me,” Gaergath said. “I have merely come to take what is mine. Why should I not? Were she your daughter, would you not take her?”
“She is not your daughter, you filth,” Radagast said. Greenjade was thinking exactly the same thing.
“She told you this?” Gaergath said with a little chuckle. “Does your host realize whom he is harboring here? I see him there. He looks frightened. I dare say he knows some of us…at least one of us.”
“She is no daughter of yours,” Radagast repeated. “You may indeed have sired her, but in no way or manner were you ever her father. No true father would ever have used his own child for the unthinkable purposes you and your foul cohorts have used her.”
“Nay?” Gaergath’s obscene chuckle puffed out of him once more. “I have looked after her for years. I assure you, that had it not been for me, she would have fared far, far worse than she has. Look at these chaps, if you please. As vile a company as one could desire. Orcs, thieves, whores, pirates, gamblers, drifters, rapists, murderers, asassins, degenerates of the worst stripe…along with some aristocrats of a rather seedy and decadent sort, as well as a stray elf or two. I suppose your friend is proud of himself for having killed my queen. I shall deal with him. But just how do you think the child would have fared with them, had I not kept her under my protection?”
Greenjade felt his stomach turn. How could Radagast stand there and listen to him?
“Protection?” the Wizard spat. “You let them take your own child’s blood, and chained her down with them underground during the day, and did who knows what with her in the night, and you call that protection?”
“Not so fast, Wizard,” Gaergath held up one pale hand. “I did never allow them to lay a hand on her save to take her blood. Because of me, she is a maiden still. Because of me, she is yet alive. Because of me, she is not one of us. I it was who dosed her so that she would not remember her blood being taken, and so that she would not remember the night’s activities. Those who tried to take more than that which they were allowed, suffered a most horrific fate. The others did not wish to be subjected to such, so I assure you that she was safe from them. So. Who but a father would have exhibited such solicitude? And so I have returned to claim her. You’ve little choice, Radagast. You may as well send her out now, for if you do not, I shall not be held responsible for what these fellows do. One way or another, we shall have her. If you do not give her up, the entire house will go up in flames, and we will have all of you. The beasts in the stall as well. So. What will it be, Wizard?”
“You are the son of Thuringwethil, are you not?” Radagast said, and Greenjade started.
“Thuringwethil?” Gaergath said, and it seemed he started also. “So you know of her?”
“She was a favorite of Sauron, was she not?” Radagast said. “Perhaps his consort? And you are…”
“Her only son, truthfully,” Gaergath said. “As for my father…well, it may well have been Sauron, for aught I know. She did not see fit to discuss the matter with me. No cosy little family group in a charming cottage in a vale were we, nor did we dwell in a fine palace with faithful servants and devoted beasts. I can scarce recall my earliest years, in truth. So if it is delightful tales of my boyhood you are seeking, Wizard, I regret I shall have to disappoint you. May I ask why you take such an interest in my family history?”
Greenjade was wondering the same thing…and then it occurred to him that Radagast was trying to stall him, keep him talking, so that Greenjade might carry out his plan.
He grabbed his staff and tapped it three times on the floor, his signal to Sméagol and Pepper in the other rooms, one on the east side of the house and the other on the west. Then he took the candle in front of him, and held it to the braided rag he had stuffed into the jar that morning to light it.
“Gaergath!” he called down to the figure below. Gaergath looked up, with eyes of recognition in the torchlight.
“Hullo, stranger!” he said. “We meet again. How like you our plan?”
“Here is a token to show you just how much I like it,” Greenjade said, and hurled the jar down as hard as he could. It broke on the walk at Gaergath’s feet, and the black cloak went up in flames. “Is that plain enough?”
Greenjade could hear shrieks on either side of the house, and saw flaming figures running out into the night, and others dropped their torches and fled, and before Greenjade’s eyes they turned into black shapes that made a hideous swishing sound, and flew up like startled pheasants, off into the dark cloudy sky. Gaergath tore off the flaming garment, and turned to run off leaving it to burn behind him. Greenjade could hear the dogs barking insanely below, and the screams of horses, and he wondered if the stable were in flames.
“Come quickly!” he heard Radagast say down below. “Bring blankets and sheets—now!”
Greenjade snatched the blanket from the bed, and met Pepper and Sméagol at the top of the stairs with blankets also.
“I got one of ‘em,” Pepper said excitedly, and Greenjade saw he was holding his bow over one shoulder.
“I gots two,” Sméagol said. “Burning, burning. With only one light.”
Downstairs they met Serilinn still holding Eglenbain, who pointed out Cammie lying in a crumpled heap in a corner.
“I think she’s dead,” Serilinn whispered with quivering lips. Greenjade and Pepper went and peeked down at her, Sméagol following close behind. Radagast came rushing in, along with Mr. and Mrs. Widdicomb, frantically, saying, “They’re gone, come out immediately. What’s wrong with her?”
“Oh my lass!” screamed Mrs. Widdicomb, and Mr. Widdicomb said, “What ‘ave yer done to ‘er?”
“She has fainted from the fright,” Radagast said. “Can you lift her and carry her out?”
“I should think I could,” Mr. Widdicomb said, and bent down to pick up his daughter in his arms. “She’s fat, aye, but she ain’t THAT fat. I’ve got ‘er now.”
Radagast bade Mr. Widdicomb fetch a blanket from the adjoining room, which he shared with his wife. They went out the back door to see the piles of twigs and straw in flames. Radagast asked Mrs. Widdicomb to stay with the girls in the back yard while they put out the fire. The men all took the blankets and beat out the flames in a matter of moments.
“She was afraid of Eglenbain,” Serilinn explained as they returned. Mrs. Widdicomb was holding her daughter, who was wrapped in the blanket her father had brought out and seemed in a state of shock. “I did not go out of the hall because I was afraid she would do something foolish if I left her alone, like run outside.”
“That’s my lass,” Radagast said caressing her dark head. “Let me look at her now,” he said to Mrs. Widdicomb.
“I want all of yer out o’ here by tomorrer,” Mr. Widdicomb said, his normally jovial face dark and grim. “I won’t turn yer out in the night, with them critters still out there. But I don’t want yer in my ‘ouse after this, y’here? Should never of took yer in in the first place. Takin’ in strangers is ever a chancy business, and I’d ort to of ‘ad better sense.”
“They saved us, Dad,” Pepper protested. “Weren’t fer them, the ‘ouse and the stable would of burnt to the ground, with us and the ‘orses in ‘em, like as not.”
“That’s all well an’ good,” Mr. Widdicomb said, “but them critters is sure to come back tomorrer, an’ I ain’t ‘avin’ any. Just look at yer sister. She’ll never be the same, after this. Jus’ wait and see if she ain’t.”
“We will be going tomorrow,” Radagast said as he cradled Cammie’s head and massaged her temples. Her pale round eyes did not seem to see what was in front of them. “Gaergath has gone, and his cloak has burnt. He cannot change his shape without it, and can do no more than go on foot. If we start early in the morning, we may lose him entirely. Tonight, Greenjade and Sméagol and I can sleep in the stable, if that’s all right.”
“Hit’s fine with me,” Mr. Widdicomb said. “As fer that thing—“ he jerked his head in the direction of Eglenbain—“that thing goes too. I don’t want it in me ‘ouse. Hit’s alive, or I’m a pickled cowcumber.”
“I’ll sleep in the stable too, then,” Serilinn said. “I don’t mind. I’m sorry about Eglenbain. He had nowhere else to go, and I was certain he would do no harm. He’s only a baby, and will not hurt the horses.”
“Just keep it out o’ me ‘ouse, that’s all,” Mr. Widdicomb said. “Declare I ain’t goin’ ter catch a wink last night. I s’pose Royal was out there?”
“ “I’ll stay up an’ watch fer ‘em, if they should come back,” Pepper said. “I wonder if Uncle Royal was the one I got? I thinks not.”
“I think I seen ‘im,” Mrs. Widdicomb said. “I glanced out o’ the eastern winder, and it look like ‘im, though I couldn’t swear to it. Ter think it should come to this!”
“I think she is all right now,” Radagast said as Cammie slowly sat up, rubbing her eyes with her fists. “Take her in and put her to bed, and bring her something hot to drink. Best you should sit with her through the night, and keep a light burning.”
As Radagast, Greenjade, Sméagol, and Serilinn gathered in the stable loft, they heard footsteps once more, then the creaking of the loft ladder. It was Pepper, carrying an armload of blankets and a lantern. He tossed the blankets up, then asked for someone to come get the lantern. Greenjade reached down the hole and took it, and the youth climbed the ladder into the loft.
“I’m sorry fer wot Dad said,” he told them just above a whisper. “’Ere’s yer some blankets and pillers, and a light. Yer can set it on that box there so it won’t tip and set the stable afire.”
“Thank you, my lad,” Radagast said smiling. “It’s been quite the night, hasn’t it.”
“Aye, that it ’as,” Pepper said shuddering. “Never ’ad such a night in me ’ole life, and ’opes I never ’as another such.”
“As do I,” Radagast said. “How is your sister now?”
“She’s ‘ad a fright and no mistakin’,” Pepper said soberly. “I just ‘ope she comes out of it. She takes fright easy, ‘bout mices and snakes and spiders and such. But them things? That’s a new thing with ‘er, although we’ve ‘eard some tales ‘bout strange doin’s.”
“Well, I thank you for bringing these things to us,” Radagast said. “It was most kind of you, my lad. You did well tonight.”
“There’s some jam and bread too, if yer takes ‘ungry,” Pepper said. “Mum sent it. And…there’s a pot in the other room, next to this ‘un, if yer should…well, you know.”
“Aye, thank you for telling us,” Radagast said smiling. “And now…”
“And now I’ll be goin’,” Pepper said. “I know y’uns need yer sleep, if yer goin’ to be leavin’ in the mornin’. I’ll bring yer some stuff fer breakfast if Dad won’t allow yer to come back in the ‘ouse. There’s a little somethin’ I’d like to discuss with yer. But it can wait ‘ll mornin’.”
“Good night, Pepper,” Serilinn said. “I hope you sleep well.”
After Pepper had gone in, Sméagol said he would go down into the stable and sleep with Nilde. Serilinn lay between Radagast and Greenjade, still clutching Eglenbain in her arms, shivering.
“Are you all right, dearest?” Greenjade asked her, putting a lock of hair from her face.
She nodded a little, without answering. Then finally she spoke.
“I heard him say he was the son of Sauron. Gaergath, I mean. Is it true?”
“Why, I don’t know, my child,” Radagast said. “He said he might be, but who can say for sure?”
“If Gaergath is my father,” Serilinn said just above a whisper, “then…perhaps…I am Sauron’s granddaughter.”
“And what if you be?” Radagast said running a fingertip along her cheek. “You are not one whit the less sweet and precious to us for it. Beautiful flowers may grow out of compost.”
“Aye, they may,” Greenjade said wrapping an arm around her, not even minding Eglenbain, who seemed to be asleep now. “You saved me from an unthinkable fate, when you had the chance to run off and save yourself, and no one would have blamed you for it. You would not let Cammie run out into their clutches, even though you must have been greatly frightened yourself. You’ve been put to the test, and have chosen good over evil each time. We are proud to have you. And I am the Ringbearer’s stepson, and not even fit to buckle your shoes. What does it matter who your father, or your grandfather was? You belong to us now.”
She sat up between them, looking straight into their faces in the lantern-light.
“I shall go to Mordor with you,” she said, and it seemed they saw another side of her, of which they had been only dimly aware, if at all. “I shall go and help you clean it up and make a garden of it. You need me there. I shall help to undo the filth that my grandfather brought to it. If you try to make me stay elsewhere, I shall follow you in secret. I am going to Mordor.”