Garland, thought Greenjade. It must be.
“Elessar is sending an escort to take you there,” Éomer said. “It should be here any day.”
“I suppose we had better go and get our things together,” Radagast said.
“What is the surprise?” Serilinn asked, even as she continued to tickle the baby under his chin. Lothiriel was gazing at her, frowning.
“The King did not say,” Éomer said.
“I think they have found Garland,” Greenjade said.
“Your wife?” Serilinn said.
“Aye…well, not my wife exactly. My sea-mate. I thought perhaps Radagast had explained that already.”
“You do not seem glad,” Serilinn puckered her eyebrows.
“I am a bit confused at the moment,” Greenjade admitted. “Aye, I am glad she is out of that place. But I am wondering what I will say to her.”
“So you will be leaving us?” Lothiriel said. “So soon?”
“We have been here for nearly two months now, my lady,” Radagast said with a little smile. “And winter is nearly upon us, and if the weather keeps us bound here, we may wear out our welcome very quickly indeed.”
“May I keep my new dresses?” Serilinn asked.
“Of course,” Éomer said smiling a little sadly. “They would scarcely fit any of us.”
“You surely are not taking this girl to Mordor?” Lothiriel said to Radagast and Greenjade. “It is no place for a child. Why not leave her here with us?”
Greenjade went cold inside, even though the question was what he had been expecting for some time.
Radagast turned abruptly to look at Serilinn, who gasped and looked at Greenjade.
“Aye, I agree,” Éomer said. “We have come to love her, and Lothiriel is right, Mordor is no place for her—yet. I was there barely a year ago. Perhaps she can join you in a few years, but as it is now…well, I do not think Aragorn would allow it. She would have an excellent home here. She would acquire education and training fitting for a princess, and perhaps some friends her age, and all the advantages a young girl could wish for. Then when Mordor is made more habitable, she could join you. But for the time being…let her bide here.”
“Well…” Radagast said, then stopped at Serilinn’s stricken expression.
“I must go to Mordor!” she broke in, her voice breaking. “You know why…you know whose granddaughter I am!”
“My love, you are in no way obligated to clean up his filth,” Radagast reasoned. “I have told you that before. And I dare say Éomer is right, it is scarcely a place for anyone, for that matter. To be quite truthful, Rohan is not the first place I would have chosen for you; however, I am certain you would do much better here than you would in Mordor, and the King and Queen are obviously greatly fond of you, and would come to think of you as a daughter…if they do not do so already.”
“I have enjoyed it here,” Serilinn admitted with tears in her eyes. “And I love the King and Queen and little Elfwine, and Nurse Grynhild also, and the dogs and horses, very much. But I cannot belong to them. Greenjade is going to adopt me…are you not?”
She looked pleadingly at Greenjade. He swallowed.
“We were saving it for when we arrived in Gondor,” he said to Radagast, whose shaggy eyebrows were fairly touching his hairline. “But…yes, I do wish it. However…”
“Then do so,” Éomer said. “If we are not to become her parents, then she might think of us as an uncle and aunt, who will care for her until your mission is accomplished. Take her to Minas Tirith, and let her meet the King and Queen and all their court. Take her to Ithilien and let her meet my sister and brother-in-law and their little one. Then if those places do not suit her better, let her come back here and stay until she is ready. Better yet, Greenjade, join my army. You have had some military training, and have done well with it. I dare say you might do better in Mordor as a soldier than as a builder. How will that be?”
Greenjade looked down at the floor. It was true he had enjoyed his stay here. He was not the same man now that he had been when he arrived. He felt he had grown rugged and manly, ready to face down any foe, take his place in the world. The craggy mountains and plains and grasslands of Rohan suited his temperament far better than the lush, green, flowery, fruity regions of Eriador, and the people as well. There was a certain wild splendor about the men especially. They were men as men were meant to be, he often thought, although he did find their sheer height a trifle overwhelming at times, and he understood how Sméagol must have felt around the big folk. He liked their vigor, their impetuosity, their rough humor, their boldness, their love of song and story, particularly those of a martial nature, the simplicity of their lifestyles, their generosity and their delight in their horses and their children…Greenjade sometimes wondered which was more important to them.
And he well understood the love and fealty the King's subjects bore him, for Greenjade felt much of it himself. He felt he truly had met a hero, a legendary figure, one who had fought valiantly for love of his country and his people, and would take up arms again if necessary, and now ruled wisely and with open heart and mind, putting the needs of his folk and family above his own, fiercely protective at all times, and warm and human as well.
And yet somehow Greenjade could never feel entirely at home here. The connection was not quite there. At times, he wished it were. But it was not.
Let Serilinn stay here? She could recover much of the childhood that should have been hers, and live a normal and interesting life. She could write to him, and he would have her letters to look forward to. But could he let her go? Even though it would be in her best interest for him to do so? Would she not feel abandoned, betrayed?
Yet how could he take her to Mordor?
“Let us take her to Gondor,” he heard Radagast saying, to his vast relief, although it occurred to him that he should be the one making the decision. “We will decide then, or let her choose where she would stay. I do thank you for your kindly offer, and would take you up on it, were it so simple a matter.”
Lothiriel looked immensely disappointed. Greenjade did not truly consider her the ideal mother figure for Serilinn, the way she had taken so little interest in her own child until the girl came. There was something about her that did not sit right with Greenjade. She was as a tree transplanted into foreign soil, uncongenial to her roots. Small wonder she had been so droopy. How would Serilinn ever come to feel at home here if the Queen did not?
“Éomer,” she was saying, “she must stay here! I do not think I can do without her now. Will you not say something?”
“Even if she were of our realm, my love,” he said quietly, “I would not force her to stay against her will.”
Serilinn smiled in tremulous gratitude at him. So did Sméagol.
“I do love all of you,” she said. “And I shall miss little Elfwine very much. He is the sweetest, most adorable baby I ever saw. But Greenjade is to be my true father, and I cannot turn my back on him. I must go with him. And if I could survive that other thing, Calador should be no great object.”
“Do as you must then,” Éomer said. “And if you find no other place that suits you better, then come back to us…quickly.”
A shout came from outside, along with loud barking from the King’s dog. Little Elfwine gave a cry, and the nurse came and took him from Serilinn, without noticing that his mother had stepped forward to do the same.
“I believe our escort has arrived,” Radagast said smiling.
Serilinn was thrilled beyond measure to find the escort consisted of three Elves. One fair, and the other two dark-haired…mirror images of each other.
“…and we saw Helm’s Deep, and the Glittering Caves of Algarond,” she was telling them over dinner. “Have you seen the Caves? There are no words for how magnificent they are! You must see!”
“I have,” Legolas smiled. “’Twas Gimli who first told me of them. I wish you could have heard his description. I’d no idea he had such poetry in his soul.”
“You have seen?” Serilinn gasped. “I was afraid to see them at first. I thought I should never wish to go into a cave after…you know. They said I didn’t have to go in if I did not wish it. Then the Queen said she wished to see them. And I looked up at her, and she was so tall and beautiful in the sunlight, I did not wish to let her out of my sight. And so I found my courage, and went in with her. It looked as though pearls and diamonds had been melted into astonishing shapes, and sprinkled with stardust, and gems were growing like flowers out of the floors beside the stream, and trees of crystal, and curtains of satin embroidered with pearls….But am I talking too much? I know I can be a chatterbox.”
“Not a bit of it,” Legolas said as the others chuckled. “I’m well accustomed to chatter, having ridden over here with these two. It’s well that they are at least interesting some of the time.”
The twins smiled at Serilinn, which made her blush. Greenjade looked at her in concern, then at the sons of Elrond. Legolas was fair enough, but Elladan and Elrohir were, in a word, stunning. By far the most beautiful male faces Greenjade had ever seen, and well he remembered the look on Serilinn’s face when she got her first look at them. Obviously the King knew them well, for he had swooped down on them all three, and his delight at seeing them again had remained with him all through the rest of the day. The three Elves had been on patrol in Mordor when summoned, which was why they had not come with the post.
“So why didn’t Gimli come with you?” Radagast asked. “I would have liked to meet him.”
“His father died recently,” Legolas said. “He is in mourning now. And he doesn’t like to ride.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” Radagast said. “I had not known of it, although I knew that Gloin was getting on.”
“So what is this surprise?” Greenjade asked, unable to hold back any longer.
“What surprise?” Legolas asked. The twins looked equally mystified.
“You did not meet a certain lady when the King summoned you?” Greenjade said.
“Nay, none that was not there before,” Legolas said. “Did you?” he said to the twins.
“Nay, had there been a lady, Elrohir would most certainly have noticed her,” Elladan said with a sidelong glance at his brother.
“That I would have,” Elrohir agreed. “But then, we did not linger about, when we reached the Hall. Estel sent us out here, said we were to fetch you over, and rightly so. We will be passing the Druadan Forest, and ‘tis said there may be a few stray orcs lurking there still.”
“There are orcs about?” Serilinn gasped.
“You may be sure, lassie,” Legolas said smiling, “that these two can handle any orcs that may be lingering about. There have never been two fiercer orc-slayers in all of Middle-earth than the Elrondionath.”
“Just so,” Éomer agreed. The twins grinned modestly. “They may not be much to look at, but they make up for that in a great many ways. The souls of valor.”
The other adults laughed aloud. Serilinn looked at the King aghast, then at Radagast, who winked and grinned widely at her, then she giggled. She wore her golden dress, having put it on after Greenjade told her it was his favorite of her new gowns. He felt proud not only of how lovely she looked, but of the way she ate her dinner without dropping a single crumb on herself, with her unfailing neatness…a quality Mrs. Widdicomb had taken note of as well, and no doubt pointed out to her own daughter later on.
Lothiriel sat at her other side, in gold also. She was droopy no longer, and her regal beauty was something to behold, a trifle haughty, yet commanding and inspiring, and Greenjade had warmed up to her more after the way Serilinn had lost her fear of the Caves at the sight of her. At times she had a gentle radiance about her, particularly when Serilinn was present, and when she held little Elfwine, which she frequently did now.
“But I much doubt we will be meeting any orcs,” Elladan said. “The Druedain have done an excellent job of keeping them down. Splendid chaps they are. Despite the grass skirts.”
“They wear grass skirts?” Serilinn said wide-eyed. “That I would like to see.”
“And naught else,” Elladan said with twinkling eyes. “ ’Tisn’t a sight one would soon forget.”
“That sounds ghastly,” the Queen said shuddering.
“Oh, you’ve no idea,” Elrohir said, and both twins laughed heartily. Serilinn gazed at them in glowing wonder. “Ah, but it’s too bad of us to laugh at them. We’d have been in a pickle but for those fellows. Perhaps we’ll meet some along the way back.”
“You should see their artwork,” Elladan said. “'Tis said that orcs are afraid of it. Obviously, orcs have never owned mirrors.”
“So how is Mordor now?” Radagast asked. “You did say you have been patrolling there?”
“A vast improvement over what it was,” Legolas said. “Trees have been planted, and they appear to be coming along pretty well. I am still trying to persuade my father to bring some of our people there, to coax the trees along. Yet I would not take a child there. The air is clearer. But the terrain is still ashy and bleak. And we still encounter stray orcs from time to time. They have fled to the Ered Lithui and I dare say they pilfer from the mines. For there are mines there—coal, gypsum, copper, silver, perhaps even gold. I dare say Sauron knew of them. One can go mad in that land. Aragorn does not allow anyone to stay there for long at a time. After two months they must come out for a month’s respite, and no one is sorry to leave.”
“You could not give me the land,” Elladan declared. “Yet Estel says if we don’t claim it, then the Southrons and Easterlings would overrun the place, and make way for another Sauron. Or another Saruman. Can’t have that, certainly. Perhaps we need to recruit some Huorns.”
“If we can awaken them,” Elrohir said.
“I suppose Eglenbain and his mother could not come yet,” Serilinn said looking a little despairing.
“Ah, that’s right,” Legolas said. “You found an Entwife, did you not? I hope there are more where she came from.”
“We saw no others,” Serilinn said. “And we did not see her husband, but he must have been around somewhere.”
“You are quite sure you saw no lady at the court?” Greenjade said, a trifle embarrassed at himself for asking. “No lady that was not there before, I mean.”
“Nay,” the twins said in unison, then looked at each other and tapped their fists together, a gesture Greenjade took to be a ritual of some sort. Probably meaning they were pulling his leg.
“You have been sworn to secrecy, I take it,” Greenjade said.
“Nay, that’s just what we do when we say the same thing simultaneously,” Elladan laughed. “We’ve done it ever since we were lads. Old habits die hard, you know.”
“Very old habits,” Elrohir said. “Nearly three thousand years in the making.”
“Well, if you don’t wish to tell, I shan’t pry it out of you,” Greenjade said, trying to make it sound like a joke. “I’ll find out soon enough.”
“I’m curious myself,” Legolas said. “It’s not like Aragorn to keep such things from us. Then again, perhaps it was just as well. Everyone knows Elladan cannot keep a secret.”
“He’s right, unfortunately,” Elladan admitted. “But Elrohir is sooo good at keeping them, it seems there must be some sort of balance somewhere. Perhaps he knows of this lady, and…wait. What lady is this, anyway?”
“His wife,” Serilinn said when Greenjade hesitated.
“You’ve a wife then?” Legolas said. “The King did not mention that either. Elrohir’s ability to keep secrets must have rubbed off on him.”
“Well, we shall see, I suppose,” Greenjade said. “I will say no more of it. I suppose we should start loading up the wagon tonight.”
“You will enjoy the drive,” Elrohir said. “The scenery is magnificent. And you will see the Beacons…although not lit, unfortunately.”
“I cannot wait!” exclaimed Serilinn. “Although…I shall miss everyone here sorely. I can scarcely believe it’s to be my last night here. I have been here longer than anywhere else, save for my home and…you know. It feels rather as though I have always been here.”
“Then perhaps you should stay,” Lothiriel said. “As they said, you cannot go to Mordor yet. There would be no one there to look after you, if the others must work so hard all the time. ‘Tis not fitting that a young girl should have no mother or nurse to see to her, or that she should miss out on the chances for a good education and upbringing befitting a young lady.”
“Oh, but I must go,” Serilinn said. Here we go again, thought Greenjade. Once more the struggle. “And I wish to know of the surprise.”
“Go then,” Éomer said, “and see it. But keep it in mind…that you will always have a place with us, if naught else suits you. It would be wonderful, indeed, for our Elfwine to have a…cousin there...to watch him grow up.”
Serilinn hung over Elfwine’s crib, dressed in her boy’s attire. She had made several butterflies which she hung from a little wooden dowel that had been fixed to the top of the crib so that the colorful feather-flies dangled just out of the baby’s reach. He seemed fascinated by them, especially when someone wiggled the dowel and set them dancing above him, and he would smile and coo and wave his tiny fists at them. It seemed to delight his mother greatly. Serilinn had also made him a toy of sorts, out of a piece of old legging she found in one of the scrap-baskets. It consisted of a round head, stuffed with cotton wool and embroidered with eyes and a wide smiling mouth, and a bit of scarlet yarn sewn on for hair, and a round body slightly bigger than the head. What it was supposed to represent was a mystery to all, but Elfwine seemed to like it very much.
“He has yellow hair like his daddy,” Serilinn mused softly as she looked down at him, “but he has his mother’s eyes, I think. He will be a very handsome man.”
“That he will,” said Nurse Grynhild as she lifted him from his crib. “Perhaps he’ll be on his legs when next you see him, my lass.”
“Thank you for letting me sleep in his room,” Serilinn said as she embraced the old woman for the last time, and gave little Elfwine a final kiss. “It was a great comfort to me.”
“I hope it won’t be the last time,” Grynhild said, sounding a bit choky. “Ah me, he’s needing a change already, and it’s not so long after the last one. Well, off with you then, dearie, and do take care.”
Greenjade waited outside the nursery, shaking his head, thinking once more that life as he had known it, thus far, was about to end. He was still certain that Garland awaited. The previous night he had thought of the House of Joy, not for the first time. Wondering if perhaps he might avail himself of it, now that Garland was out of That Place. If he didn’t have to be so frightfully good now. Just once. That couldn’t hurt, could it? In, then pay the price, and come out again, no looking back, no regrets. Some other fellows had invited him to go a time or two. Fortunately, after those days of rigorous activity, he had been too exhausted. And considering how, well, virile, these men were, he had feared the women would laugh at him. Not that he was truly lacking, but still…then there was the matter of Garland.
And then last night, he had felt a trifle restless. Wondering if he might slip out and find his way into the town, and…he might even invite the three Elves along. Surely they could do with a bit. How long had it been since they’d had a woman, in Mordor? Maybe even Sméagol could come along. As long as he was paying for it, the women might not mind his lack of height.
It surely couldn’t hurt, just this once.
Well he remembered a few nights previous, when he’d gotten up to answer the call of nature, and had heard some giggles issuing from the royal bedchamber, and some suspicious creaking sounds…and as he was coming from the privy, he saw the Queen herself in the dimly burning light of the hallway sconce, coming out of the bedroom stark naked, still giggling, her hair streaming all down and loose…and when she caught sight of him, she'd uttered a shrill and most unqueenly little squeak and rushed back into the bedroom, slamming the door behind her.
Next time, he would use the chamber pot.
He and Lothiriel had not looked each other in the eye ever since.
Just once. Then he could go back to being good…maybe.
It was not at all hard to be good in Serilinn’s company. It seemed to come naturally. But in the company of robust men, it was a different matter. Very different indeed.
Somewhere in the night, Darkfin was laughing at him once more.
As he continued to think of it, he found himself getting very sleepy. And now it was morning, and it was too late. He had missed his chance.
“So I am a lad once more,” Serilinn said as she went hand in hand with him to the wagon. “I very much liked being a lass. I suppose things would be much different if I were a lad all the time, however.”
Radagast chuckled. “I should think so.”
“But I do not wish to be a lad now,” she said as she watched the twins mount their horses. Elladan rode a black horse, while Elrohir rode a bay. Legolas’ horse was white with grey patches. “Are they not splendid? I did not know there were still Elves in Middle-earth. I wonder why they did not go into the West.”
“I’ve wondered that myself,” Radagast said as he hitched Brego to the wagon. “But I didn’t think it my business, so I did not ask.”
“I suppose they felt it their duty to help clean up Calador,” Serilinn said as Greenjade helped her up onto the wagon seat, and Radagast gave Sméagol a hand up. “I am in love with them,” she added.
Greenjade started. So did Sméagol. She might have said the sky was blue and the grass was green, for the matter-of-factness of her tone, yet her eyes were full of luminous dark beauty that was unmistakable. Radagast made a sound that was almost like a laugh, but not quite.
“Aren’t you a bit young for that?” Greenjade said, feeling that familiar jealousy once more.
“Elves are never too young,” Radagast said softly. “More’s the pity.”
And they were on their way once more.