“Is that Edoras?” Serilinn whispered. “On yonder hill?”
Greenjade squinted. It looked just a hill to him.
“Aye, and it has spread out a great deal,” Radagast said. “Last time I saw it, it had a tall wall of timber built about the base of the hill, and the fortress was all contained within. Now I can see that wall has been torn down, and new dwellings have been constructed all about the foot of the hill. And I do not remember those farms being there. The land has healed and grown and flourished. And…” He turned and grinned. “I even saw some black horses. Sauron’s orcs stole a great many of them during raids. So there have not been many black horses here in many years.”
“I scarcely can believe that I will be meeting the people in those tales,” Serilinn said with wide eyes. “To think they are real, and we will see them before our very eyes. It fair takes my breath away.”
Radagast chuckled. Greenjade was getting a trifle nervous about meeting the King. He wished he had some more presentable clothing. He glanced aside at Sméagol, who seemed very ill at ease. Obviously he was much more at home among common folk.
“He does know we are coming?” Greenjade said.
“I wrote him that we would be there,” Radagast said. “I am reasonably certain that he received my letter. And I told him all.”
“I hope he will not find us repulsive, and turn us all out,” Serilinn said.
“Well, if he does, we will simply be on our way,” Radagast said. “We shall not stay for more than a few days anyway, at the most. We have been riding for several hours now, so I suppose we should find somewhere to stop and freshen ourselves up, and feed our Brego.”
It truly was an actual city, like Tharbad, and more complete, with streets and houses and various buildings spread about, taverns and smithies and inns and mills. And a marketplace.
“Never mind the freshening up, we look fine,” the Wizard said. “Let’s find the road that leads to Meduseld. Ah, here comes someone now; I’ll ask him.”
A grey-bearded man with a walking-stick was coming up the road on foot, limping somewhat. Radagast called to him.
“Oho! Kind sir! Can you tell us the road to Meduseld?”
The man stopped, blinking, and then came up closer. “How’s that?” he said. “You will have to speak up, good master; I am a mite deaf, I fear.”
Radagast repeated the question. The old man looked in the direction of the hill, squinting.
“Turn to your left when you reach the sign of The Swimming Princess,” he said pointing in back of him. “Then turn to your right on the first road ye come to. That’ll take ye to the Royal Road. There should be a sign. Ye may have to check your horse at the gate, for ‘tisn’t likely he’ll want to take that road uphill. He’s a fine-looking beast, by the way.”
“Thank you, kind sir,” Radagast said. “I certainly would not wish to put him to more trouble than we must. He has born us a good long way, and I would give him a few days’ respite.”
“So you’re going to the King, eh?” The old man leaned on his staff and looked sidelong at the wagon.
“Aye, he’s expecting us,” Radagast said with a rather cheeky grin. “That’s why we brought our very best wagon, instead of our everyday one.”
“Eh? Oh, by the way,” the old man said before the Wizard could repeat his statement, dropping his voice to a whisper, “there’s a House of Joy along the way, just so ye know. But mind, I’m not the one that told ye. My wife would swat me, if she was to find out.”
“Of course not,” Radagast said a trifle coolly. Greenjade raised his eyebrows, then grinned to himself. “Well, I thank you for your help, good sir. Give my regards to your wife.”
“A house of joy?” Serilinn said as they started down the road once more. “That sounds lovely. Will we see it?”
“I should hope not,” Radagast said with a warning look at Greenjade.
“’The Swimming Princess’,” Serilinn giggled. “I wrote down the names of all the inns we stayed in, and the taverns in the towns. There was ‘The Toothless Wolf’ and ‘The Murky Vixen’ and--”
“’The Leaping Balrog Inn’,” Sméagol said.
“‘The Happy Dragon’ and ‘The Checkered Goblin’…”
“’The Orc’s Grandmother’,” Greenjade said.
“We must think of one for the inn we’ll build in Calador,” Serilinn said. “I think ‘The House of Joy’ would be excellent, but unfortunately it is already taken.”
Greenjade thought he would burst with the effort to keep back his laughter. Radagast seemed to be in a like state. Sméagol seemed in agreement with Serilinn.
“I think we are almost here,” Radagast said, in obvious relief as they turned on the road at the foot of the hill.
They stopped in the marketplace to buy flowers for the Queen. Serilinn could not decide on which color rose would be best--red, white, pink or yellow, so she chose three in each. As Radagast gave the flower-vendor the money, Greenjade glanced aside at Sméagol once more, at the knife thrust through his belt. That should rightfully be mine, he thought, not for the first time. Would have asked for it back, if not for the fact that I’d already bought one. Wonder if he would consider a trade….
He had come close to asking more than once, but did not like to do so with Serilinn and Radagast listening. He had a feeling they would be displeased and disappointed in him if he tried to deprive Sméagol of his prized possession.
Still, it should have been his. It was a handsome thing, likely stolen from some aristocratic chap along the way. And it was really too big for Sméagol. Already he had a scratch or two on his wrist where he had brushed against its tip…and all had seen what happened when Sméagol became overly attached to an object….
But what was this? Sméagol was now taking it from his belt…and handing it to Greenjade, holding it by the blade.
“This…it should be yours,” he said softly. “You takes it. Yes?”
Greenjade stared at it in absolute astonishment. Had the fellow heard his thoughts, or what?
He was even more astounded and disbelieving at what he himself said next.
“You keep it, Sméagol. I have one already.”
Sméagol shook his head. “You takes it from bad mans. Sméagol did nothing. It should be yours.”
Radagast and Serilinn were listening now. Greenjade felt, rather than saw, Radagast nodding to him to take the knife.
Greenjade put out his hand and took it. “Thank you, Sméagol,” he said, then unfastened the sheathed knife from his own belt. “Here. You should have something to protect yourself, if it comes to that.”
Sméagol took it, smiling.
And then they were on their way once more.
The King was magnificent in robes of scarlet and dark green and gold. He was well over six feet tall, making Greenjade feel a trifle insignificant by comparison. His mane of fair hair flowed over his shoulders, and there was a tinge of red in it, and in his beard and eyebrows which were a few shades darker. A large black dog lay at his feet.
His wife Lothiriel sat next to him, tall also, wearing a small golden circlet on her dark hair that cascaded in luxuriant waves down her back. Her skin was pale and her dark-grey eyes were rimmed faintly with red, as if she had been weeping recently. Her gown was of brown velvet, with gold embroidery about the round neckline and sleeves. The brown color suited her well, just a shade or two lighter than her hair.
Radagast was telling of their journey, seated in a comfortable chair, a goblet of dark wine in one hand, and the others sat about also, as a fire blazed in a huge fireplace. Sméagol sat nearby, eating from a bowl of grapes, with Nilde at his feet casting glances toward the black dog. Greenjade, only half listening, looked all around at the high columns carved with horses’ heads, the gorgeous banners in red and green and gold hanging from the walls, the tapestries depicting battle scenes. Serilinn, holding Cinnamon, looked alternately at the Queen and at the nurse who held their infant son. Greenjade had already noted that the Queen was not looking at her child.
“We live simply here,” Éomer had explained earlier. “I have no wish to exploit the people so that we might live in luxury while they go hungry and unshod. We have but few servants, and our dishes are plain overall, though well seasoned. I hope you all will not mind it much.”
“This kind of simplicity I can live with,” Greenjade remarked. Radagast chuckled.
“I too,” he said. “After weeks of sleeping in a wagon or on the ground, this all seems as the lap of luxury. And I do not like fancy food. Simple dishes, without meat, suit me best.”
A luncheon was brought out, consisting of a delicious meat stew with potatoes and onions and leeks, some raw vegetables, and thick slices of toasted bread and butter and melted cheese sprinkled with dried herbs and pepper. Greenjade tried not to wolf down the stew too ravenously. Sméagol made no such effort, and when the serving-maid offered seconds, then thirds, he nodded eagerly and held out his wooden bowl, wiping his mouth with his sleeve.
The King discussed with Radagast the projects he had worked on to develop the city, and Serilinn paid attention then, Greenjade noted with a smile. He spoke of the new healing-house, the orphanage, the school, the inn, the sporting arena, the farming community, the irrigation projects, the training facilities…and from time to time he would glance at the Queen, who spoke barely a word, but sat there with her hands folded in her lap, until finally the baby cried, and she rose and followed the nurse into another room.
“She has been in a funk ever since Elfwine’s birth, three months ago,” Éomer said dropping his voice to just above a whisper. “I do not know what is wrong with her. The child is healthy, and his birth was a great joy to me. At first I thought she was homesick, and offered to send her on a visit to her father, but she refused. She does not like to travel, particularly over such rugged terrain. Then I invited her brothers to come up, and they came last month and stayed for two weeks, but it did not seem to cheer her much. She and Éowyn are quite close. Éowyn usually comes up for a visit at this time, but she is pregnant now, so she could not make it this year. Perhaps her mother’s death three years ago may have something to do with it. But I can only wonder why it should have taken so long to affect her this way.”
Radagast put a hand to his beard. “Perhaps the cause is physical?”
“I thought it could be, and I called out several healers. She had a difficult birthing, and they said it was unlikely she would have more children. She seems to be recovering her strength, but not her spirits. Sometimes I think it is my fault; I have been so preoccupied with building up the city and so forth, I have neglected her. Yet when I try to spend time with her and the little one, it is a frustrating experience, for she seems to be trying to push me away. It is true our marriage was arranged, yet she was much amenable to it, and we considered it a love match and were very happy in the first few years. I am at my wits’ end as to what to do.”
“What of the King of Gondor?” Radagast said. “He it is who has the greatest reputation of a healer, has he not?”
“I shall contact him if all else fails,” Éomer said. “I did not wish to bother him when he has so much going on himself, what with rebuilding his own city and his Mordor project. There have been threats to the country from the South, since mines were discovered in it, and I may soon find it necessary to send troops myself to help.”
“Yet all things considered, I surely doubt he would hesitate to come to your aid, if you were to call on him.”
“I shall, if it comes to that.”
Greenjade had to wonder, himself, what the Queen had to be sad about. With a handsome, virile husband who obviously cared deeply for her, a beautiful and healthy little son, a splendid home in a flourishing country that had abode peacefully for several years, brothers who were concerned enough to drop everything to come and see her…. He wondered if she were some spoilt princess who was used to far more reeking splendor, and the King’s desire to embrace simplicity did not appeal to her. Surely she was not so shallow as that…but one never knew.
“I think she does not like my dress,” Serilinn spoke up. The King looked at her. Then smiled a little.
“I do not think your dress is in any way responsible for her mood,” he said. “And I like it very much, little one. The white suits you perfectly.”
“She was looking at it rather…distastefully,” Serilinn said. Radagast looked askance at her, but she did not notice. “But I can see no spots on it. Or perhaps she thinks I am too old for dolls. Or perhaps she knows the truth about me, and does not wish me here.”
“I have told her all,” Éomer said, “and she expressed no objections to your coming. And I think she very much liked the roses.”
“Does she? I feared perhaps I had chosen too many colors.”
The King chuckled. “I do not think you need worry about displeasing her, my lass. We should see now about accommodating the lot of you. I believe my page put your things in the back room already. And although we do live simply here, I do not think you will find the guest quarters lacking in comfort. The Queen took great exception to our former practice of putting our visitors up in trees, so we have had to do away with that old custom. Even though it has a notable precedent amongst the Elven folk.”
Serilinn stared at him open-mouthed, until Radagast laughed.
“I believe he is joking, my love,” he said. She giggled then. Greenjade grinned a little.
“I think it would be a nice idea in the summertime,” she said. “I hope we can grow mallorn trees in Calador. Did Radagast tell you about our project for Mordor?”
“Much, and he said your enthusiasm about it was contagious,” the King said, “and he is far more excited about it than he once was. He had considered it a disagreeable chore that he must take on in order to earn passage back to his true home. But now he has a genuine interest in the project for its own sake, mainly because of you.”
“Did he? He never told me so!” Serilinn turned and looked at the Wizard, who was looking a trifle sheepish.
“Well, it is so,” Radagast said. “You were as a refreshing sweet breeze into a musty corner. Éomer, what know you of Mordor now?”
“You should call him ‘Your Highness’!” Serilinn gasped. The King laughed.
“Nay, little one, he has the privilege of using my given name,” he said. “He being of the Maiar, as it were.”
“I am half Maia,” Serilinn said, “and yet, I feel it would be wrong for me to address you as such. I hate the part of me that is Maia, anyway. I would far prefer to be known as an Elf.”
“So be it,” the King laughed gently. “Although there is no need for you to hate it. There are good Maiar and bad Maiar. I do not hate the part of me that is Man, just because there are bad Men. But, let us go and see to your sleeping quarters.”
Lothiriel came in later, followed by the nurse, glancing at Serilinn’s dress once more. Then she touched the material in the sleeve.
“I think we must do something about this,” she said. Serilinn looked askance at the sleeve, then up at the Queen.
“You are going to visit the King of Gondor, are you not?” Lothiriel said. “You will need something more appropriate. Why not come with me, and we shall see if we can make you something suitable for presentation in court?”
“But…but I like this dress,” Serilinn said. “A kind lady made it for me.”
The Queen nodded. “It is very nice for ordinary doings, but don’t you wish to have something a bit finer? And it is a bit light for winter, which is coming in soon. You should have a velvet gown, trimmed with lace and satin. How would you like that?”
“I would love it!” Serilinn said, fairly irradiated all through. Greenjade was startled. He had often noted a glow about her, but now that radiance seemed twofold. And he could not help but agree with the Queen that she needed a more suitable dress. “But wouldn’t it take long to make?”
“Not so long,” Lothiriel said. “I’m sure my best seamstress can turn out one in a day or two. What color would you prefer? I have some velvet left over from this one, which is rather new. Perhaps there would be enough for you to have one very like it.”
“Your gown is splendid, my lady,” Serilinn said, “and you look very beautiful in it. But I had to wear brown for so long, I do not like it for myself. I would have something in gay colors. I have never had a dress in gay colors before.”
Lothiriel gave a startled little laugh. “But gay colors are not proper for a young lady, my dear.”
“I don’t wish to be proper,” Serilinn said, and Greenjade turned to hide a smile as the Queen gasped. “I wish to make merry. I have never made merry before, and I want to see what it is like. I dare say we will not be able to make merry often in Calador.”
“Then let it be done,” the King interjected. “Propriety is for adults. And you may have ample opportunity to make merry soon, for the Harvest Festival is coming up in two weeks. It is a custom we have had not very long, yet everyone makes very merry indeed, and we could do with a bit of merriment in this house, for that matter. It has been sad for far too long.”
“But we will not be here two weeks,” Serilinn said looking at Radagast with wide eyes.
“That is correct, I fear,” the Wizard said. “We wish to get to Minas Tirith very soon, and had planned to abide here for only a day or two, much as I would like to see more of the City.”
“You must stay longer then,” Éomer said. “I wish to show you our projects in much greater detail, so that you might get more ideas for your own. You cannot do all that in just ‘a day or two’, now can you?”
“No, I suppose not,” Radagast admitted. “Yet I would not impose on your hospitality.”
“Not a bit of it,” Éomer said with a wave of his hand. “It has been dull here since my brothers-in-law left. I greatly enjoy having guests, and am much taken with your Elf-lass. I’ve a feeling she could be excellent company, seeing as how she has already succeeded in making Lothiriel smile, if only a little.”
“Oh, wonderful!” Serilinn exclaimed. “Perhaps we could see The House of Joy first? I do not yet know what that is, but it sounds so very intriguing. Perhaps we could have one in Calador first thing.”
Greenjade could not keep back the laughter this time. He roared. After a moment, Radagast laughed also, then Éomer. Sméagol merely looked bewildered, the Queen perplexed. Then Sméagol laughed also, not because he understood, but merely because the sound was so contagious, and then Lothiriel laughed also, most heartily, while Serilinn looked at everyone with puzzled eyes, likely thinking everyone had gone around the bend….
And the Travelers ended up staying for seven weeks.
Greenjade learned to use sword, bow, and spear, and also to ride and wrestle and swim—there being a hot spring in the mountains which formed a pool that stayed warm even in cool weather. It was rigorous training, but Greenjade took to it quickly, and found himself enjoying it, along with the camaraderie he knew with the King and his friends and guardsmen, who could go from grim to jolly in an astonishingly small amount of time. Sméagol and Serilinn learned to ride also, and Sméagol learned some of the gentler arts of gardening, and when the others heard that fishing was his specialty, he was taken fishing quite often, and he imparted to the others the art of making flies. And was paid for the fishes he brought in.
Serilinn acquired more needle skills and some experience in caring for little Elfwine, with whom she became much enamored quickly, so that she slept in the nursery, and according to the nurse, his first smile was at her. Lothiriel herself made the first gown for her, of red velvet trimmed with white lace and gold braid which she took from an old gown of her own, along with a satin sash embroidered with gold, and so Serilinn had her first dress in gay colors. Then came a gown of gold, richly embroidered in black, and a white one trimmed in silver, since she would need more than one dress, certainly. And underthings, and a very pretty nightgown, and new shoes of soft black leather. And clothes for Cinnamon as well.
And a new silver locket, with a beautiful flower etched upon it.
She was taught to dance, also, and she was asked to sing often, and Lothiriel and the nurse both taught her many new songs, so she was able to flesh out her skimpy repertoire. Lothiriel even taught her to play a little on the harp. She seemed quite in her element.
And Greenjade and Sméagol were treated to new clothes as well. They were given swords, with hilts formed in the shape of horses’ heads.
“I do not think it will be necessary to call upon King Elessar, after all,” Éomer said to Radagast when the Travelers had been there a little over three weeks, and the Harvest Festival had come and gone. “Your remedies seem to be working splendidly. I have not seen Lothiriel so happy in over a year. I can only hope it lasts. I just may have to keep you all here for all time.”
Greenjade glanced over at Serilinn, who was holding the baby and singing softly to him. He had a feeling it would be harder for her to part with him than with Eglenbain.
And somehow he did not like the way Lothiriel was looking at her just then.
About a month later, Éomer received a letter from Aragorn, who told the Travelers he had a surprise for them, and they must come immediately. But what the surprise was, he did not say.