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37
On the Road

Part III


~~~


“My friends, we are approaching the River Gwathló, or Greyflood if you like,” Radagast said about two weeks after crossing the Baranduin. “We shall put up in Tharbad, for it is growing late in the day, and the land is largely marshy for miles hereafter.”

“So how long will it take us to get to Minas Tirith?” Greenjade asked. It had been about two weeks since they had left the Widdicombs.

“Likely less that a month, if we stay our course,” the Wizard said. “We will stop at Edoras, which is straight on our way. I have not met the current King of Rohan, and would like to. However, we shall not stay long. One week at the very most. Ah, we’ve much history before us. I can remember when Tharbad was a flourishing city, and when it fell to ruin, and was hit by a devastating plague, and a great flood. I believe it has been partially rebuilt, however, and the bridge reconstructed.”

Greenjade recalled the village where they had stopped to buy bread, just before crossing the Baranduin. Radagast and Sméagol had gone into the bakery, while Nilde waited outside, and Greenjade and Serilinn had wandered about the marketplace. Serilinn had never been to market before, and she stopped at each stall gazing in wonder at the wares, touching some of them with a fingertip. Her delight in this very mundane activity was contagious, and Greenjade smiled at her back as he followed her about. As she stood at the toy stall, three men had looked at her askance as she held Cinnamon close, the fattest one saying, “Nice dolly yer got there, me lad,” then looked sidelong at an older man beside him, evidently his father.

“Oh, I am a lass,” she said reaching behind her and picking up her long braid from beneath her cloak to show him. The three men smirked at each other and the fat one elbowed the thin one. Greenjade, standing nearby looking at knives with carved handles, noticed this exchange and scowled.

“And yer mum sends yer out in lad’s clothes?” the elder one said. “Wot’s she thinkin’ with that, eh?”

Serilinn looked a little stricken then, and Greenjade stepped forward saying, “Pardon me, have you a problem with my daughter’s attire?”

“Eh, she’s yern then?” the elder man said drawing back a bit at Greenjade’s fierce expression.

“Pretty lass she is,” the thin one said. He drew back also. Serilinn smiled.

“My daddy made my doll,” she said sweetly. “See, she looks just like me. And she wears a dress, although not a very good one. Perhaps we will meet a seamstress who can make her a gown more worthy of her.”

“Did you have a problem with her clothing?” Greenjade insisted, raising his eyebrows at both men.

“I’m thinkin’ me dad was wonderin’ why such a pretty lass should be dressed as a lad, is all,” said the fat one with a defensive quirk of his head.

“And that is his business?” Greenjade said.

“A man’s got a right ter wonder,” the fat man said, taking his father’s arm.

“I had a live entling,” Serilinn put in quickly. “But we found its mum, and I had to give it up. We could not take it to Mordor anyway. ‘Tis no place for an Ent-child.”

The three men stared at her. Greenjade, after a stunned moment, realized she was trying to be disarming in order to prevent an altercation.

“Yer don’t say,” the fat man said, looking completely baffled. Greenjade snorted. The thin one and the elder one were quite speechless. “Well…come, dad, let’s be goin’. Them fishes ain’t goin’ ter buy theirselves.”

And they moved on toward the fish market, the elder man tipping his cap to Serilinn.

“Did I do something wrong?” she asked Greenjade.

“Nay, not a thing,” Greenjade said. “Does anything here take your fancy?”

“I see naught so satisfactory as Cinnamon,” she said, very softly so the vendor wouldn’t hear. And they left and bought a bag of sweets and some apples and pears. Her delight in the marketplace seemed to have diminished, even when Radagast came from the bakery with four loaves and a bag of sugar buns.

“Now you know why I can’t abide commoners,” Greenjade said after telling him of the incident. “Thickheaded jackasses. Why couldn’t they have kept their mouths shut? They got her upset for naught.”

“You picked a rather poor example,” Radagast said, shaking his head with a rueful smile. “And she handled it very well. I dare say you are making far too much of it.”

“They seemed typical enough to me,” Greenjade said. He thought to himself that no one seemed to have any clue of what had transpired in the village they had left behind, although it was little more than fifty miles away. “I’m thankful we’re about to leave the place. They can have it.”

Yet as they drove through the region of Cardolan, with scarcely a habitation in sight for nearly a hundred miles, Greenjade would have been glad to see any people at all, commoners or otherwise. It was largely grassland, with few trees as far as they could see. Radagast said there had been some farms planted in the past few years, but they were nowhere to be seen. The stillness was strange, but for the crows, of which there were a great many. Still, he said, if you were to climb a high tower, you might see wheatfields and pastures. They had to go a great distance to find a spot to camp for the night, and there was very little wood for building fires. Sometimes they had to do without entirely, and the darkness was frightening to Serilinn. So Radagast stopped at a farmhouse and bought a lantern. It was the only house they saw for a great many miles. But when he asked if they might stay the night in the stable, the farmer shook his head violently.

Radagast told much of the history of each land they would pass, so that his three companions learned a good deal of the land of which they had known so little. Greenjade was astounded at his knowledge, which seemed so vast to be encompassed by one man. He did wish, for Serilinn’s sake, that Sauron did not figure in so much of the history. Sméagol seemed disconcerted by it also, by the fact that he had lived through so much that had transpired, and yet knew naught of it, had missed so much, living in his cave obsessed with a small golden object. It was as though he had slept through a war, or had lived in a great house in one room oblivious to what was going on in all the other rooms about him, never so much as looking out the window, convinced of the reality of that one room which in fact had no true existence, unaware of the part he was eventually to play in the future of the entire house.

Serilinn, more interested in the future than in the past, talked a good deal about what they would do in Mordor. First off, they would change its name. Her choice was “Calador,” the Land of Light. Then they would have to build a city. Perhaps they could build it on top of where Sauron’s tower had stood. What should they call it? Then there would have to be a palace, and it should be one where guests could come and stay and have wonderful times. There would be splendid gardens and tall trees and pools, and perhaps Ents, lots of them, and mumakil…

“Mumakil are rather huge and ferocious,” Radagast said with a smile. “I doubt you would want one in your back yard.”

“But you could tame it,” Serilinn said. “You are the ‘tamer of beasts’, are you not?”

“But none of the beasts were so big as that,” Radagast said.

“They must have other animals in Harad also,” Serilinn said. “Have you seen aught of them?”

“I have not been in Harad,” Radagast said. “But aye, there are splendid beasts there, of many kinds. And birds. And snakes and insects…some of which you would likely not want in your home. And trees and flowers the like of which you have likely never seen.”

“Perhaps we could trade for some,” Serilinn said. “Do you suppose I could be an ambassador someday?”

“I don’t see why not,” Radagast smiled. Greenjade grinned over his shoulder at her. So did Sméagol, although he was not sure what they were talking about.

“Perhaps some hobbits would come, if we invited them,” Serilinn said. “I shall send an invitation to Samwise Gamgee and Merry and Pippin, and they shall be our guests, and they will marvel over the changes we shall work in Mordor. Sam will not recognize it, I am sure. We will tear down the Black Gate, for one thing, and set up a beautiful golden one instead. It will have eagles on it…do you suppose the Great Eagles will come and see us too? They did not go West, did they?”

“Nay, not even a great Eagle could fly that far,” Radagast said. “I do not know where they are now. However, I am sure they could be persuaded to pay us a visit, even come to live there, in time.”

“That would be magnificent!” she said beaming at Sméagol, not noticing how fidgety he was getting throughout this conversation. “But are you sure Mount Doom will never erupt again?” she sobered.

“Absolutely,” Radagast said. “Unless…unless perhaps, the land should fall to evil once more. That is possible. But I do not see that it will happen in this age.”

“How would it fall to evil?” Serilinn frowned. “That is…unthinkable!”

“Not if folk were to forgot their history, and take things for granted, and grow complacent and thoughtless and uncaring, and be swayed by those desiring to control them,” Radagast said soberly. “One thinks it can never happen. And that is one thing that one should never think. Why do you think Gaergath had so many of his kind? Because he told them what they wished to hear. Promised them powers they had not, gave them what they thought they wanted. Likely he did not tell them of the consequences, never let them know what might happen, the price they would have to pay. I suppose, judging from the things he told me, that they were down and out, outcast from polite society whether by their own actions or perhaps because of circumstances beyond their control, and had nowhere else to turn, saw naught but dead ends everywhere they went. He took base advantage of that. I can only wonder just how he and the others are paying the price now.”

Greenjade shrank up into himself, feeling a little angry that Radagast had brought up the subject of Gaergath. And he was fearful, remembering his dream. Would Serilinn someday begin to remember, even as Gaergath had said? It was Greenjade’s worst fear now. What if she remembered, and it were his fault because he had killed Gaergath without a thought to the consequences?

~*~*~

In the inn where they put up for the night, Radagast wrote a letter to King Eomer informing him that they would be coming to visit. When Serilinn asked if they could send the locket back to Miss Carrie, the Wizard told her to keep it until they got to Edoras, where they could get her one of her own. He was taking no chances, he said.

“I’ve never been in a city before,” she said the next morning as they took their breakfast in the inn’s dining-room. “This one is very pretty, although it looks a bit unfinished. I wonder what sort of city we will build in Calador. It should be on a river, I think, so that we can have trade. Are there rivers in Calador?”

“There are four which run into the Sea of Nurnen, I believe,” Radagast said. “In truth, my dear, I have not been to Mordor. I—“

“Shh!” Serilinn jumped halfway from her chair, looking all about at the other inhabitants of the room, which were few. “It’s Calador now. We must not speak that old name.”

“Calador, of course,” Radagast said with a sheepish grin, which spread to Greenjade and Sméagol also.

“You have not been…there before?” Greenjade said in some surprise.

“Nay. It is the only land in Middle-earth I have not seen, nor ever wished to see,” Radagast said. “I dare say poor Sméagol is the only one of us who has been there.”

“Bad place,” Sméagol spat, growing a bit red. “Horrible, filthy…we hates it. Not wants to go. Stinking. Filthy orcs hurts us. No, precious, we not goes there again. We—“

He stopped as Serilinn laid her hand over his wrist.

“You are talking like Gollum,” she said gently. “There is no more Gollum, and no more Mordor, and no more Darkfin. We will make it so beautiful, no one will remember what it once was. There will be no orcs…or if there are, we will tame them, and make them nice. I am sure Radagast can do so?”

She looked up at the Wizard with lifted eyebrows.

“I do not think there are any orcs,” he said gravely, “and if there are, likely they have all fled. Or there will not be enough of them to be a menace.”

“I suppose the dead ones are in the same place with Gaergath,” she said, poking at the remains of her breakfast as though she had suddenly lost her appetite for it. “I do not pity him. But for him, my mother would not have turned evil and she might have loved me and Meleth would be alive. I wonder if Duathris is sitting there getting bitten, and wishing she had never met him, and decided to be good.”

Greenjade was a little shocked. Although he had wasted no sympathy on either of them, it was disconcerting to hear this from Serilinn.

“On the other hand, but for him, you might not have been born,” Radagast said…at which Greenjade was more shocked still. “I know it is easy to wonder why certain things are permitted. However, we must stop to consider how it would be if nothing bad were allowed.”

“I just hope he is sorry for being so wicked,” Serilinn said after a long moment.

“Remember who his parents were,” Radagast suggested. “What else could he have become, under those circumstances?”

“Think who her parents were,” Greenjade pointed out.

“Ah, but she had Meleth,” Radagast said.

Serilinn nodded, winking hard. “I wish I could remember more things,” she said. “There are so many things I cannot remember. I wish I could, even if they were bad things.”

Radagast caressed her hair. “I understand, little one. Although perhaps if you could remember them, you would wish to forget them. There is much I wish I might forget. For example, the Plague…well over a thousand years ago, but I remember it as if it were merely ten. People died in droves, men, women, children, infants, animals…I saw many die, gasping for breath, writhing, choking on their own vomit, moaning in pain, calling for their mothers, their children…. I was able to save some, but so few, so very few. It spread over the entire continent, and weakened it so that Sauron’s forces could prevail all the more. And then there were the wars, and the floods…So many things I wish I could forget. I can only hope that when I finally sail to my true home, these memories will greatly diminish, if not disappear completely.”

“I wish I could forget my previous life entirely,” Greenjade said. “I envy you, my love. You were only a victim. I was a perpetrator. There is naught worse than guilt. And there is no getting rid of it entirely, however much one may try to make amends.”

“I know all about that,” Radagast said.

“You do?” Serilinn’s eyes widened.

“Aye. To allow a perpetrator to do evil is scarcely less than doing the deed oneself. But enough of this for a while. It is too depressing a subject to be discussing over breakfast. We have the city and the road ahead of us, and a lovely autumn day to contemplate. Shall we be going?”

After stopping at the markets to buy more supplies, they crossed the bridge. There were many people about, some hustling by quickly, others sauntering leisurely here and there, and a youth sat on the bank below fishing. A man sat playing a musical instrument on a street corner. He had a cup beside him. The playing was not very good, yet a woman passing by dropped a coin in the cup. A man coming up behind her did the same.

“He’s blind, I think,” Radagast said.

Serilinn climbed over him and jumped off the wagon before he could stop it, rushed over and tossed several coins into the man’s cup. Then came running back, grinning. Sméagol, not to be outdone, jumped down from the wagon and dropped some coppers into the cup. Then he and Serilinn looked expectantly at Greenjade, who groaned a little, then laughed, and went to plop in a coin. Radagast threw him one, and he put that in too.

The blind man smiled, and spoke, but Greenjade did not understand.

~*~*~

“Look at those birds,” Radagast commented as they drove over the causeway that spanned the marshy land. Rusco, who had been perched atop the wagon, flew down to sit on the Wizard’s shoulder.

Some of the birds were huge, standing on very long legs in the water, rising with great white wings in the cloudy late afternoon sunlight, some small and perching in trees sticking out of the grassy water. Bitterns, loons, herons, ducks, grebes, blackbirds, rails, coots, gallinules…. Radagast named them all off, the different varieties, their mating and nesting habits, and he could identify their calls and cries without looking. Greenjade wondered why he was finding it so much easier to listen to the Wizard now, and absorb the information being given out.

“They frighten me a little,” Serilinn said. She sat close to Greenjade now, behind Sméagol and the Wizard, shivering a bit. Greenjade kept his arm about her. “I do not know why.”

“You associate wings with darkness,” Radagast said looking at her over the shoulder not occupied by the finch. “But these are not cloaked creatures; they are simply what they appear to be. Like Rusco here.” He smiled and flicked a finger at the bird. “The most they can do to us is make a mess of our canvas. However splendid they may be in flight, they will do what all birds must.”

“You weren’t afraid of Ella’s grandmother’s birds, were you?” Greenjade said. Then it suddenly occurred to him that perhaps she was starting to remember things…just as Gaergath had said in his dream.

“Those were in a very big cage in the yard,” she said. “I did not go into it.”

“Sing a song,” Radagast said. “Then perhaps they will seem less overwhelming. Any song would be good enough. What of Meleth’s cradle-song?”

When no sound was forthcoming from Serilinn, Greenjade sighed, and said, “Very well then, I’ll sing. Let me see…”

From the highest of high cliffs I do dive
over the reefs and the gloryfalls
into the icy hair of the clouds
watching my children play in the towering waves
riding on the backs of whales
I hear the music of the sea and the stars
my brothers and sisters embrace me as their own
my mother shouts from the mountains of ice
my father laughs from the hills of fire
and I swoop down with the wings of the wind
breathing the mist of the promontory gardens
alone, alone, I do soar alone
who will fly with me
to that grey and blistered land
to sow the seeds and plant the trees
that will burn with the light of new days
and drop blossoms of white wisdom
for all to gather to themselves?

He glanced down at Serilinn, who was no longer crouched and trembling, but looking up at him with eyes of awestruck beauty.

“Look,” Radagast said. Greenjade saw a large and very beautiful white bird with a long neck on the road just ahead of them. The Wizard spoke to the horse to stop him.

“A swan?” Greenjade said.

Radagast nodded. All were silent for a moment, then the swan took wing and flew in a wide circle about the wagon, then in a wider circle, and another swan rose from the water and flew alongside of it. Soon they were joined by more and more swans, a regular flock of them.

“They are from Swanfleet, I dare say,” Radagast said. “To the north of us. I’ve never seen swans do that before.”

And they sat and watched the swans circling with their outspread snowy wings, in their silent and ineffable care, the morning sunlight etching them in burning silver against the hurtful blueness above.



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