As the first day of their trip wore on, Greenjade had already decided that, with one exception, he hated Elves.
Serilinn had curled up for a nap in the wagon, and Sméagol seemed inclined to do likewise, although he continued to sit behind the driver’s seat with Radagast and Nilde, his head drooping. The three Elves rode about twenty feet ahead. Greenjade, who had the reins now, glared at their backs, thinking of when they had stopped to lunch a while ago. Serilinn’s infatuation had been fairly obvious as she listened to their stories, of which they had a considerable wealth. Even though she comported herself in her usual unconsciously ladylike manner without excess giggling or simpering, just as she would have with anyone else, there was most definitely a difference. And no doubt the Elves were well aware of it, and were reveling in it. Taking advantage, going out of their way to try to impress her, leading her along, fanning the flames for the stoking of their own egos.
Greenjade muttered to himself. One of the twins—he still couldn’t keep them straight--was clad in a deep crimson, trimmed with gold; the other was in royal blue, and the rich colors became them to devastating effect. Legolas wore a soft muted green, trimmed in silver, with brown leggings and dark boots. They never seemed to get a smudge of dirt on them, never mussed their hair or their clothing, and although the weather was rather cool, they wore no cloaks, exposing their throats and ears to the bracing autumn wind in delight. All three had elaborately wrought quivers full of arrows slung across their backs, along with their bows and long knives, their swords thrust into their gorgeously gemmed belts. They were vain, thought Greenjade; they were dandified, they talked too much, they liked to show off, and what was it with all the hair? From the back, they could be taken for women. He had seen Legolas touch the bole of a tree rather as one might stroke a horse’s muzzle, and Greenjade had fully expected him to embrace it.
The journey would take about four days, Legolas said, if they stayed their course. Take your time, Greenjade wanted to tell him at the beginning, but now he had changed his mind. The sooner they got where they were going, the better.
His one comfort was that Sméagol seemed to share his aversion. Greenjade could have sworn he heard the fellow growl when the male Elves taught Serilinn a song in their native tongue—Sindarin? Radagast translated for the others, but Greenjade didn’t pay much attention.
“She most assuredly loves you best, Greenjade,” the Wizard said after a time, and Greenjade nearly jumped out of the wagon seat. “It has been a time since she has been with her own folk, however.”
“Her mother was her own folk,” Greenjade reminded him.
“Even so,” Radagast said, nonplussed. Greenjade half expected to get a lecture on how heroic the Elves had been in the War and so on. Even though he knew it was unlike the old fellow to deliver lectures. Actually, just now he would have preferred a lecture to a lot of sympathizing and comforting. He shrugged impatiently, trying to think of a way to change the subject.
“Why didn’t they just go into the West where they belong?” he grumbled. So much for changing the subject.
“They are needed here yet,” Radagast said. “King Elessar said Legolas and his contingent of Elves had done much to restore Ithilien to its original beauty and splendor. As for the twins, you may do well to remember they are the King’s brothers-in-law.”
“Fine,” Greenjade growled. “I’ll just cut off my beard and grow my hair down to my arse, dress to the nines for cross-country journeys, and go about petting trees and singing hymns to the Star-kindler in broad daylight. Then I can be one of them, and they’ll cease looking down their noses upon me from their precipitous heights.”
Radagast sighed and shook his head. And they rode on in silence.
Serilinn awoke from her nap and came out to sit by Greenjade. She smiled up at him with such love, his dark mood fled like grey clouds before the sun. She had Cinnamon on her lap once more. She had left the doll in the wagon during the recent stop. He did remember the Elves commenting admiringly on its workmanship that morning.
And he noticed she had taken her hair from its braid and let it flow freely.
“I hope the Lady Lothiriel is not sad again, now we have gone,” she said.
“She will miss you,” Radagast said. “But I think she has taken a great interest in her own child, and he will bring her joy. I dare say he does already, although it will be ever a sadness to her that she will never have a daughter like you.”
“Which does not mean you are in anyway obligated to go back there and be the daughter she’ll never have,” Greenjade said.
“There was joy in her when we were in the Caves,” Serilinn said. “It was as if she had been set in the sunlight for the first time…even though there was no sunlight. I felt it also. I already miss her, and the King, and all the rest. And baby Elfwine most of all. Yet I am not sorry to be leaving. I love seeing new places, don’t you?”
“Aye, that I do, when you are with us,” Greenjade said. “You are as a lamp that illuminates all the beauties I might have missed seeing, myself.”
“What of Garland?” Serilinn asked. “What if she shouldn’t want me? Will you be my Ada still?”
“If she shouldn’t want you,” Greenjade said firmly, “then I shan’t want her. That’s all there is to it.”
She smiled once more, then was silent for a time, and he was glad of it. Much as he enjoyed her chatter, her silences in between had something very restful about them. They rode past more mountains that rose with incredible height into the clouds and overwhelming blueness, past a waterfall flowing in glittering majesty into a wide stream below, past meadows growing with sweet-smelling grass and red and blue and white and yellow flowers and whistling with birds, past trees that stood bare of leaves and others that kept their dark green needles, past fields where horses grazed in the serenity of the day.
“We need a flag,” Serilinn said at last. “What did the flag of Mordor look like?”
“Black, with a flaming eye, or so I heard,” Radagast said. “I never saw it myself.”
“The flag of Rohan has a horse on it, and the flag of Gondor, a white tree,” Serilinn said. “And the flag of Eriador…what does it have?”
“A dragon,” Radagast said.
“Ah yes,” Serilinn said, casting a glance at the Elves, then back to Greenjade. “We must think of a new flag for Calador. What should it have?”
“A fish?” Sméagol suggested.
“Well…but it’s not by the sea, dear,” Serilinn hedged.
“A volcano,” Greenjade said.
“An eagle,” Radagast said.
Serilinn let out a little shriek. The three Elves looked behind them.
“That’s IT!” Serilinn said, nearly bouncing in her seat. “On a sky-blue field with sun rays coming from behind. Can anyone draw it?”
“I dare say you can,” Radagast smiled.
“But I’ve seen no eagles,” Serilinn said. “Have you?” she asked Greenjade. He shook his head. So did Sméagol.
“I have, of course,” the Wizard said, “but drawing is not among my skills. However, I’m sure that there will be artists in Minas Tirith who can rise to the occasion. I can scarcely wait to see the White City again.”
“Nor can I,” Serilinn said. “I have never seen a city that was all white. It must be wondrous, like a mountain of pure snow. Perhaps we should build one in which every building is a different color. Or a different shade of every color, I mean. No two exactly alike. Or, what about a city with the buildings all shaped like the formations in the caves, and all glittering? Would that not be a sight to see?”
They stopped for the day in a well-wooded area. Elrohir shot a pheasant and put it to roast on a spit. It made Greenjade’s stomach growl, and he knew that once more his hunger would overcome his pride. Even so, he gnawed on a piece of jerked venison. The sun was sinking little by little, doing some pretty painting in the low-lying clouds.
“If Gaergath told you he was the son of Thuringwethil,” Elladan said, “very likely he was lying. She was killed in the First Age. If he had been born then, we would surely have heard of him far sooner than we did.”
“When did you first hear of him?” Radagast asked.
“When we were young,” Elladan said. He was resting with his back to a tree, while his brother tended the spit nearby. “Gaergath may well be a descendant of hers, but a son? I much doubt it.”
“Then perhaps I am not Sauron's granddaughter after all?” Serilinn said. There was a mixture of delight and dismay in her tone.
Elladan chuckled, picking up a wood chip and tossing it into the fire. “If you are Sauron’s granddaughter, lovely one, I am the son of a balrog. Although, to be sure, I have been called worse.”
“We heard stories of Gaergath from Glorfindel,” Elrohir said, “which I believe were supposed to frighten us into staying in our beds at night instead of sneaking out, as we were sometimes wont to do. Ada said he was real, but had never seen him. When we asked Glorfindel, he would tease us, and tell us little of him. But he said naught of him being the son of Thuringwethil. He surely would have, had it been so.”
“Perhaps he used other names,” Radagast suggested.
“I never heard of him at all,” Legolas said, “until a few hundred years ago. I did not believe him real. And yet, you killed him?” he asked Greenjade.
“As far as I know,” Greenjade said. “We tracked him to his lair, and fired up the lot of them. I presumed him to be among them.”
The three Elves looked at him with respect, one pair of blue eyes and two identical pairs of grey.
“Estel did not tell us of this,” Elladan said. “It is a wonderful thing you have done.”
“They had yet to do so,” Radagast said, “when I wrote to the King.”
Greenjade looked down at his feet. Serilinn beamed in his direction, then smiled at Sméagol.
“And some were orcs, you say?” Elrohir said. Serilinn nodded.
“Naught worse than an orc,” Elladan said darkly, “unless it be a blood-drinking orc.”
“Or perhaps an Uruk,” Elrohir said. “We took out one of those in Mordor. They are even more disgusting than orcs, if possible. Yet somehow…it was harder to kill him than I would have supposed.”
“There was something human in him yet,” Radagast noted. “’Tis said that orcs were crossed with Dunlendings to form them. I did not mention this when we were crossing Dunland, for I did not wish to alarm anyone. Was he the only Uruk you saw in Mordor?”
“Aye,” Elrohir said. “I believe the Huorns ate most of them. Ugh. I am thankful not to be a Huorn.”
“What was your mother like?” Serilinn asked. She had heard the story of their mother from Radagast.
The brothers started, then looked at each other, then at her. It was a moment before either answered.
“A sweet and gentle soul,” Elrohir spoke, finally. “She loved caring for her family, and making others happy. She had many skills. She liked cooking, and telling stories, and making the house beautiful for the rest of us. Great joy she had in living and all things.”
“Joy, yes,” Elladan agreed. “She was of a joyous nature, and she imparted it to others. ‘Twas impossible to abide in her light, and not take on that light oneself. That’s what they stole from her—her joy and her light. And in stealing hers, they stole ours also.”
“According to Samwise, she is very happy now,” Radagast said gently. “She even has another child. I dare say much of her joy and light have returned to her.”
“Aye, Estel told us we had another little sister,” Elrohir said. “I wish I might see her.”
“Why did you not go West?” Serilinn asked. “Didn’t you wish to see your mother again?”
“Of course,” Elrohir said, then seemed uncomfortable. “But…”
“Did you choose mortality?” Radagast asked. “As Arwen did? Or…”
“I choose to be of Elfkind,” Elladan said. “But Elrohir has not decided yet. He was ever an indecisive chap.”
“It is a big decision,” Radagast pointed out.
“I have not entirely decided,” Elrohir admitted. “Sometimes I think immortality is greatly overrated. And I have a lifetime of memories I would give much to lose. It would be a great thing to pass from the circles of the earth, and lose them. There are few I would wish to keep. Yet I would wish to meet with our mother again, and the sister we have yet to see.”
“You must see them,” Serilinn said with wide eyes. “I shall sail when Radagast decides to go, and then you must go with us.”
“We will go when Legolas goes,” Elladan said. “I stayed because of my sister here. She has chosen not to go, and had I gone…well, I knew it would be farewell forever. The same with Estel. He is as a second brother to me. I could not go while they yet lived, knowing it would be the last time I would see them. I would be here for all the time they have left. And we’ve a little nephew and niece now, and I much dote on them.”
“Grandfather Celeborn will go with us, I hope,” Elrohir said, “that is, if I go also. I feel rather badly for him. He left Lorien to be with us in Rivendell, then we hightailed it south and left him there all alone when Estel summoned us to Mordor. Perhaps we could persuade him to come down also.”
“Why did he stay in Middle-earth?” Serilinn asked. “Did he not wish to be with his wife?”
“For us,” Elladan said with a sigh. “His heart is here.”
“You shall all go with us,” Serilinn said. “How will we get a ship?” she asked Radagast.
“Legolas is going to build one,” Elladan said. “He’s even spoken of taking Gimli with us, if he lasts that long.”
“That would be splendid,” Serilinn said. “If only Greenjade and Sméagol could go also…but I suppose that would be much to hope for. But they will meet the Ringbearer and the others. I wish I could.”
“Elrohir,” Radagast said, “do you know that in the West, you can choose to have your memory entirely erased?”
“I can?” Elrohir said. “How so?”
“Not sure. But according to Samwise, your mother and Frodo were both given the choice…which they refused. I suppose your father knows how it works. I do not recommend it. I have a great many memories I would be free of, myself. But I think I shall choose to deal with them. I thought I would let you know you have that option, however.”
“I have few I would wish to keep,” Elrohir said. “Well, yes, there are many good ones. But it seems the bad ones overwhelm them to an intolerable extent. As poison pollutes pure water, even a great deal of it.”
“I dare say one can learn to deal with the bad ones, without losing the good ones also,” Radagast said.
Greenjade found himself feeling glad the twins had darkness in them, even though his aversion had dissipated considerably and he found himself warming up to them. Even though he was certain their darkness was different from his own. Actually it was the very thing that made him feel connected to them. He tried to resist that connection, out of his own native pride and obstinacy, but it remained, all the same.
And later in the night, Serilinn said she would sleep under the stars, rather than in the wagon. Greenjade did not know what to make of it. Legolas said he would stand guard—evidently he did not need as much sleep as the others. Radagast and Sméagol slept on one side of the fire with Nilde in between them, while the twins slept on the other, side by side. Greenjade sat up for a bit, and Serilinn came up beside him, having changed into her nightgown behind the trees.
“Look,” she whispered, pointing out the brothers, “they even sleep alike.”
They lay on their sides, each facing the fire, knees drawn up slightly, heads resting on their right arms, their left hands loosely holding to their blankets, their weapons laid before them. Serilinn giggled, then cast a doting look at them.
“You’ve no idea how happy I am,” she said snuggling close to Greenjade, who laid an arm about her, “to think perhaps I am not Sauron’s granddaughter after all. And I owe it to them.”
“Wonderful,” Greenjade said, very softly, wishing he felt happier for her.
They stopped at the Firien Wood the following day, for their noon meal.
The road through the forest seemed strangely still. No birds sang, and the only sound was the breeze soughing through the high branches and the horses’ hooves clopping along, and even that was muffled by the dead leaves and pine needles that blanketed the road. Even the Mering Stream seemed to make very little noise as it flowed below the bridge. When anyone spoke, it was barely above a whisper.
“Why is it so quiet?” Greenjade finally asked, albeit very softly. “Is it…haunted?”
“This is known as the Whispering Wood,” Radagast said. “We are approaching Halifirien, the Hill of Awe. It was the sacred burial site of King Elendil, father of Isildur. There’s a stone stairway that ascends to the summit, and there is one of the Beacons at the top. It is where Cirion Steward of Gondor brought Eorl in 2510, and gave him the land that would become Rohan. King Eomer and Aragorn came here after the War to renew the Oath of Eorl and the Gift of Cirion. Nay, Sméagol, we won’t be climbing the stair. Yet we might stop and take our luncheon. But no one might slay any beasts here.”
The Elves were in a far merrier mood than they had been the previous day. After the meal, they showed off for Serilinn, shooting arrows into trees on which they drew clay targets, and at one time Elrohir threw a large pine cone incredibly high into the air, and Legolas coolly drew back his bow and sent an arrow upward, and soon bits of pine cone rained over all.
Radagast looked his disapproval at these capers in a holy place, and Greenjade did likewise, although the holiness was lost on him. But Sméagol laughed as Nilde ran to retrieve the arrows, and Serilinn skipped with delight, and ran after her. Legolas laid down his bow, saying he would shoot no more, lest an angry pinecone explode in his face and blind him, recalling the story of King Folca and the boar, which had killed him with its tusks in these woods.
“So, Legolas,” Radagast asked as they were clearing up after themselves, “is there any truth to this wild tale of your taking down a mumak single-handed?”
“Nay,” Legolas said without batting an eye, as Serilinn turned to stare at him, and he nodded toward the twins. “Those two took it down with me.”
Elladan and Elrohir grinned sheepishly as the others turned to gawk at them.
“Why do we never get credit for aught?” Elladan pretended to pout. The others laughed.
Then Legolas sobered abruptly, and turned away to find his horse. The laughter died down.
“In truth,” he said as he mounted his steed, his back to the others, “I can find naught of that battle that is a laughing matter. It was horrible beyond words. And the aftermath? All those bodies, man, orc, elf, and beast…. We had the cleaning up. I cannot even begin to describe it.”
“I am sorry I spoke of it,” Radagast said. “Please forgive me. I did not think.”
“Our memories are a veritable graveyard of horrors,” Elrohir said. “If we do not laugh at it betimes, we are like to go mad.”
“I do understand,” Serilinn spoke up solemnly.
“Nay, I should hope you do not, sweet lassie,” Elrohir said with a sharp little laugh. “How can you possibly?”
“I slept in a grave each day, before Greenjade found me,” she said looking up at him with haunted dark eyes.
“Aye, I had forgotten,” Elrohir said sobering. “Forgive me, little one. ‘Tis too much for my overcrowded brain to take in, I fear.”
Elladan stood very still, just looking at her. There was that silence once more.
And then suddenly he dropped to one knee before her, and took her hand and kissed it, pressing his other hand over it.
“Will you marry me?” he said.