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38
Swans and Crows

There was another long stretch of uninhabited land. To the north was Dunland, Radagast said, pointing it out on his map; to the south, Enedwaith. The terrain was largely rolling hills, much grass and some trees.

Cinnamon was acquiring quite a wardrobe. Mrs. Widdicomb had gifted Serilinn with a little sewing-basket of her own, complete with scissors, a pincushion full of pins and needles, several spools of thread, a pretty china thimble, and a bag of scraps and remnants. Serilinn had begun making doll clothes to pass the time on the long stretches of road, and Cinnamon now had three dresses, a set of underthings and a nightgown, some handkerchiefs, and a little cloak. Greenjade found the sewing peaceful to watch. He had resumed some of his whittling as well, and was now carving a swan. He kept at it until it was his turn to drive.

Then suddenly from behind a thicket, two men appeared. Black-haired and shaggy-bearded, swarthy and roughly clad, they bore long knives, one of them snatching the reins from Greenjade’s hands. Brego reared, narrowly missing the head of one of the assailants with his hooves. Rusco swooped down at the man, and he waved a dirty hand to flap the little bird away, whereupon Rusco flew at him from behind and pecked the back of his neck. He yelped and uttered something that sounded like profanity. The other man held his knife at Radagast, pointing to the wagon and speaking in words Greenjade did not understand.

“If you fellows are hungry, we will share our bounty with you,” the Wizard said over the horse’s whinnying. At that one of the men laughed.

“Serilinn, can you see my money-bag back there?” Greenjade said, making the gesture of jabbing his staff into the ground and winking at her. She nodded, found the staff and handed it to him. Feeling profoundly grateful for her quick-wittedness, he brought the staff down as hard as he could on the wrist of the man who was holding the knife on Radagast. Should have used it on his head, Greenjade thought…but he did not want to kill a living man in front of Serilinn. The thief howled in pain, dropping his knife, and seized his broken wrist.

Then suddenly both robbers found themselves being severely pecked by a pair of swans that appeared seemingly out of nowhere. The men fled into the nearby woods, although not before wounding one of the birds. Sméagol picked up the fallen knife. It was quite large, the handle made of black horn, nicely carved and polished.

“Now Sméagol has sword,” he said inserting it into his belt.

“Are you all right, dear?” Greenjade and Serilinn asked each other simultaneously. Then laughed a little until they noticed the injured swan.

Radagast sat on the ground and took it onto his lap to examine the cut, which was at the base of its neck, its mate hovering anxiously nearby. He spoke gently to the wounded bird, stroking its great white wings, then asked Serilinn if he might borrow her sewing-kit. She threaded a large needle for him.

“Please sing Meleth’s cradle-song,” Radagast said. “This will hurt her a good deal, I fear. ‘Twould be better if I were to sing and you were to sew, since I know the bird-language better, but I could scarcely expect a little one to take on such a job, although I have observed that you sew well.”

“If you are sure it would hurt her less, then I will do it,” Serilinn said. “But do you know Meleth’s song? I can sing and sew at the same time, but I would sew better if I were not singing, I think.”

“Well that you’ve had plenty of practice,” Greenjade said. Sméagol nodded.

So Serilinn stitched the cut, while Radagast sang in his soothing bass voice, a wordless song of comfort and courage, so hypnotic that it made Greenjade feel a trifle sleepy and dreamy himself. The swan made no sound, only occasionally fluttering her wings. Her mate caressed her neck from time to time with his bill.

“Nice bird,” Sméagol commented softly from time to time.

“Thank you for looking out for us,” Serilinn said to the swans when she had finished the suturing, and Radagast applied a bit of balm to the stitched wound. “You were very brave. I’m sorry those wicked men hurt you, and that I had to hurt you also.”

“I had better keep my staff handy,” Greenjade said, feeling foolish that he had been so unprepared. The staff and the knife he had bought at the market before crossing the Baranduin were all he had in the way of weapons. He didn’t suppose the oil-jars would do much good, should they be attacked once more.

“Dunlendings,” Radagast grunted when they were on their way once more. “They allied themselves with Saruman, you might recall. They have ever been a rough bunch, overall. They have settled down somewhat in the past few years, but there are a few ruffians out there yet, as we have just seen. We must be on our guard, although it seems we are being well protected.”

He looked up to see the swans winging high above, and smiled, raising his staff to them.

“Do you know the Men of Dunharrow, who eventually became the Army of the Dead, cursed by Isildur, but then aiding Aragorn at Pelargir against the invasion of Umbar, were originally from this region?” he remarked.

Serilinn had abandoned her sewing, sitting still with her hands folded in her lap. The act of stitching a swan’s wound seemed to have rendered the making of doll clothes trivial and unimportant to her, Greenjade noted with some distress. He had hoped she might recover some of her stolen childhood along the journey. However, her fear of the winged creatures seemed gone. She had not washed away the blood on her hands, saying she felt honored and clean to have it there.

“The Stoors settled in Dunland as well,” Radagast said after they had ridden for a good while. “Did you know that, Sméagol? You are of the Stoors, are you not? Although I think you must be of mixed blood, since the original Stoors had facial hair, and you have none. Yes, they were originally in the valleys of the Anduin, but many migrated to Dunland, where the land near Swanfleet was similar. They picked up some of the language of the Dunlendings, which accounts for some of the peculiarities in their speech. There may even be some Stoors in Dunland still, although I doubt we shall meet any of them. Did you not know this at all, Sméagol?”

Sméagol shook his head. A profound sadness seemed to settle over him.

“I has no home,” he said. “Never had home, never.”

“You must have lived somewhere,” Greenjade pointed out. “You didn’t live in that cave when you were young?”

“Can’t remember,” Sméagol said, tears welling up in his eyes. “Can’t remember any home, house, family, mother, father, brother, sister, friend, country, homeland…nothing. Everything gone. Nasty ring took it all.”

“We are all homeless now, Sméagol,” Radagast said laying a hand on Sméagol’s shoulder and massaging it a little. “All four of us. All we have now is a hope of building a new one of our own. Do not feel all alone. We are all as you now.”

The tears spilled over and Sméagol hunched over, his face down, sobbing. Serilinn climbed over to the back seat and squeezed up beside him, nearly sitting in his lap since the seat was not wide enough for her to sit comfortably with him, and she put both arms around his neck and pressed her head against his shoulder. Radagast climbed into the front seat with Greenjade so they might have more room.

“I’ve no home and I cannot remember things either, Sméagol,” Serilinn said. Greenjade expected her to start telling him all about the lovely home they would make in Mordor—or Calador, but she did not. Instead she kissed the top of his head, then began to weep also.

Greenjade, swallowing hard, glanced aside at the Wizard, who was looking rather woeful also at having inadvertently made them sad, and slapped the reins on the horse to make him go a bit faster. The sooner they left this place, the better.

~*~*~

“We are nearing the Gap of Rohan,” Radagast announced about a week and a half later. “About ten more miles, I think.”

The land was becoming more rugged, and a mountain range could be seen in the distance to their left, very misty and mysterious.

“That is where Isengard is?” Serilinn asked. She had resumed her sewing, although with less alacrity than before the attack. She had succeeded, about a week before, in drawing Rusco to her. He would come and perch on her finger once in a while, and she would twitter to him until he pecked her on the lips. It made Sméagol laugh. Greenjade felt a trifle jealous, but said nothing.

“Nay, that is about fifty miles away,” Radagast said. “We shall not see it.”

“Not even from a distance?” Serilinn said, disappointed. “I would like to see the tower.”

“We may be able to see it from the ford,” the Wizard said. “But it is too far out of our way, and I wish us to get to Edoras as soon as possible, without exhausting Brego.”

“The countryside is very beautiful,” she said. “But I am glad we are almost out of Dunland. There is a sourness about it, although I am glad we did not see any more bad men. And I do not like crows.”

“I am glad also,” Radagast agreed heartily. “Although, the Powers saw to it that we did not pass unprotected. However, I fear it will be colder in the mountains. It is warmer in the South, but the mountain air will send forth a chill. Best keep your cloak handy. And do not be too critical of the crows, my dear. They may not be so fair and noble as swans, but they may surprise us yet.”

“Looks like our Swans have gone,” Greenjade noted, looking up at the sky.

“Aye, I sent them back,” Radagast said. “They have a nest, and young ones, and should be returning to them. We will be all right without them now.”

“I hope you’re right,” Greenjade said dubiously.

“You did well, my lad,” Radagast told him. “I am sorry I did not tell you this before. I am glad you did not kill them. You fended them off well without unnecessary bloodshed, and I am proud of you.”

“Then you are the one who summoned the Swans?” Serilinn said to Radagast. “I knew it!”

“The air smells so fresh here,” she said a couple of hours later. They were well in sight of the mountains. The calls of birds was peculiarly resonant and rich in the distance, and the breeze was cool and fragrant with the smell of high pines and water. Leaves drifted and fluttered all about onto the shady road, scarlet and gold and copper and russet brown. “This is the prettiest place I ever saw. I hope…Calador…is like it.”

“I dare say it will be years before it even comes close,” Radagast said.

“But this was where Saruman was…or close, was it not?” Serilinn said.

“Close, yes. And now there is an aura of wholesomeness where once was poison. But…the land we now know as Calador was under the Dark Lord’s dominion for thousands of years. It will not become pure overnight. I dare say it is far better than it was, or we would not be allowed in at all. But we must not expect too much too soon. There is too much to heal.”

It was near nightfall when they reached the Gap, the setting sun turning the mountain mist to scarlet, and Radagast said they would have to find shelter here. The Isen River lay before them, behaving a bit boisterously as they crossed the wide ford, but they managed, and Radagast drew a deep breath.

“Welcome to Rohan,” he said.

~*~*~

It had been a very long time since they had taken a day’s respite from traveling, since Radagast did not want to risk being waylaid. But he thought they should take one now, here in this peaceful and transcendently beautiful place in the Misty Mountains.

“We are about a hundred miles from Edoras,” he said. “I think we can get there in about three days. So we will take our time here, and enjoy this loveliness, and take some moments to contemplate the glory of creation and the splendour of our Creator, and sing his praise.”

They camped beneath an overhang near the river, since Radagast said it rained frequently in the Mountains. Sméagol got out his fishing gear once more, and since he had a knife now of which he was mightily proud (even though it was Greenjade who had made it possible for him to acquire it), Greenjade challenged him to a knife throwing contest. Radagast let Brego loose to crop some tall grass nearby, then threw a stick for Nilde to chase, and Rusco chased it also, pecking at the dog’s neck when she caught the stick. Serilinn wished to climb the cliffside, and Radagast stood below telling her not to go too high up. Greenjade stopped his knife throwing, feeling a bit disgruntled at first that she did not want to watch the match, then worried about her being up so high, and wondering at Radagast for allowing her to climb. Then he told himself that he ought to order her to come down, since she was his charge after all…he needed to take responsibility for her.

“There are good footholds,” Radagast said as Greenjade came over to where he stood. “I think she will be all right. She is not a fool.”

“She’s awfully high up,” Greenjade said. Sméagol put his knife back into his belt and came over. “What if she becomes frightened and cannot come down?”

“We don’t likes high places,” Sméagol quavered.

“I see Orthanc!” Serilinn called down where she stood on a ledge. “Come up and see! It’s partly hidden in the mist, but I can see the top.”

When no one was responding, she called once more, “Come up and see!”

“No, thank you,” Radagast said. “I’ve seen all of Orthanc I ever care to see. I think you had better come down now, my lass.”

“There are doves on top,” she called. “Greenjade, will you come up?”

“Coming,” he heard himself say. Ignoring Radagast’s look, he began climbing up the rockface. He had never climbed a high place before in his mortal life. Yet he wanted to see Orthanc. He was tired of missing all the good places.

“Fool,” Radagast muttered to Sméagol. “Watch him fall and break a leg, and we’ll be stuck in one place once more. Yes, we have the wagon now, at least.”

Greenjade saw Serilinn looking anxiously down at him, as though she too thought he had no better sense than to slip and fall. Well, he was coming up…higher…and….

Soon he was on the ledge with her.

“There it is,” she said softly, pointing.

All he could see was mist.

“I guess my eyes aren’t as good as yours,” he said after a moment, disappointed.

“We’re almost as high as it,” she said. “Just look. I don’t see how Gandalf jumped on the Eagle’s back. I would have been afraid to.”

“You are not the only one,” he said, looking all around.

The view was nothing less than breathtaking. He had seen mountains before, of course, but never from this height. And this was the first time he had been alone with Serilinn in weeks.

“Let’s sit down for a moment,” he said. They sat down and gazed all about. There were falcons soaring above and below, and they could look down on the tops of very tall trees. There were firs, dark and lofty, and larches all gold and glowing in the sunlit mist, gum trees in golden and scarlet and crimson, beeches in coppery red. Promontories jutted out, coated in lichens and ferns and small blue and red and yellow flowers. And far below, the River, blue and green and silver, glittering in hasty splendour. A little lizard scuttled up a sapling nearby, and Greenjade caught it and examined it in wonder. She put a finger out and stroked it hesitantly. Then he carefully put it back on the sapling.

“I’m glad Eglenbain is with his mum now,” she said softly, just out of nowhere. “I like to think of them happy together. I wonder if he will remember me.”

He looked straight at her. She looked back at him, blinking a little.

“I truly do not know what I would have done,” he said after a long moment, “if you were not with us. I don’t think I could have borne this journey much longer. I was to the breaking point, before finding you. Madness was just around the corner for me, I think.”

“Truly?” she said just above a whisper.

“Truly,” he nodded. “I had a bad experience just before then, and…well, I do not care to tell of it. I did not think I could bear one more moment with those two. And…”

“But why? I think they are lovely.”

“It was not their fault. It was…well, I don’t know how to explain it. I just could not be alone, and it was driving me mad. But you saved me from all that. You bring out the best in me. So what I would like to ask you is…would you like to be my daughter? I would like to adopt you as my own.”

“You would?” she gasped. He nodded once more.

“I would. I would be your father in reality. I don’t know how it’s done…but perhaps, when we get to the King, he can tell us. That is, if you wish it. If you do not…”

“Of course I wish it!” she exclaimed. “It would be so lovely, and I could call you Ada Greenjade?”

“If you like,” he said with a joyous little laugh. “Or you could call me dad, or Greenjade, whatever you pleased.”

“And I would be…Serilinn Baggins?” She was fairly beaming. He started.

“Well, I had not thought to use the name Baggins,” he said with a chuckle. “‘Greenjade Baggins’…it has rather a strange ring to it. Perhaps I should be just Greenjade, and you just Serilinn. I am scarcely worthy of the name.”

“Perhaps we can be worthy someday,” she said.

“Perhaps,” he said absently, then glanced down below. Radagast was still looking up at them, although Sméagol had resumed playing with Nilde. Greenjade waved.

“I suppose we should go down now,” he said. He stood, then reached a hand down to help her stand.

“Look!” she said. “The mist has cleared from Orthanc now. Can you see it…Ada Greenjade?”

He squinted into the distance, and saw something dark and looming from the mist, although it was too tiny and far away to be impressive. He shrugged.

“Wonderful,” he said, and he was not referring to Orthanc.

~*~*~

They decided they would not tell the others until they came to Minas Tirith, where they would surprise everyone. Radagast surely suspected something was afoot, but he said nothing, just looked at them quizzically from time to time, and sometimes they would look at each other and giggle, like youthful sweethearts.

Just before reaching Edoras, they put up at an inn in a nearby village, so that they might bathe and have their clothing laundered. Serilinn was overjoyed at the chance to dress as a lass once more.

“Your daughter is very beautiful,” the laundress told Greenjade. “And she has the most charming manners I have ever seen.”

He beamed at her, and gave her an extra large tip.

“Everyone here has yellow hair,” Serilinn noted as they were preparing to depart next morning. “Do you think the King will like us? We are like crows amongst…yellow birds.”

Radagast laughed. Then looked at Greenjade, who was, if not princely, at least clean and neat, for the first time in months, his hair and beard trimmed, and Sméagol, who was scrubbed within an inch of his life. At Nilde, clean and combed. Then down at himself.

Even Cinnamon was in her best dress--white, like Serilinn's.

“I think we all look splendid, and he will love us,” the Wizard said. “So. Shall we be off?”





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