Serilinn stood staring open-mouthed at her suitor, while Elrohir looked on in shocked dismay. Legolas dropped from his horse and stood looking on.
Nilde came up with the arrow in her mouth, unsure of whom to give it to.
“Do not joke of such things to her,” Greenjade said at last, very darkly indeed.
“I am not joking,” Elladan said, seeming a bit astonished by his own audacity, but staying where he was, keeping Serilinn’s hand in both his own.
“You may come to find a protective father a far more formidable obstacle than an entire army of orcs,” Greenjade said. Who was he fooling? He knew perfectly well he didn’t stand a chance. But speak he must.
“I most assure you, this little lady has won my heart entirely,” Elladan protested. “I do not care how long I must wait for her. And if she should accept me, I shall never approach her in any way I would not approach a sister of mine until she be of an age for it…and I have a sister, as you know. Two of them.”
“Here now,” Elrohir protested. “Do I get no chance? I saw her first, I believe.”
“But you did not speak first,” his brother said. “And you are considering mortality, are you not? You would be gone likely before she is even of an age to marry.”
“What if I do not choose mortality after all?” Elrohir said.
“Very well then,” Elladan said with a sigh, without rising. “In the end it will be up to her, of course. So. My lass, I will give my brother his opportunity as well, and even speak for him. I love him enough for that. In very truth, he would make the better husband, I’m sure. He is far more wise and learned than I, more sensitive and thoughtful. And more modest. Yet no less valiant. I tend to be impulsive, as you can plainly see, and forward, and headstrong, and obsessive, more inclined to decisive action. And a bit of a braggart. The difference between us is often what makes us a good team. And, of course, he is far better looking.”
Radagast had to laugh, then stopped short when he saw Greenjade’s look.
“Better looking?” Serilinn exclaimed. “You both look identical to me.”
Elladan chuckled, as did Legolas. Rusco flew down from a tree to Radagast’s shoulder.
“You must be around us a good long time to see it,” Elladan said. “So. What of it, my lass? Are we betrothed? Or…”
“Nay,” Greenjade heard himself saying. “You are not. Look at her. She is far too young to betroth herself…and you are well aware of it, and taking advantage.”
“I would not do that,” Elladan said. “Aye, you are right to be wary. My timing was a bit off, granted. And of course I should have asked your leave to woo her first, and I was remiss in that. I ask your pardon. I assure you, my intentions are honorable. I am totally taken by her. I have never met anyone like her…”
“You’ve known her less than two days,” Greenjade said. “And yet you wish to marry her?”
He reminded himself that he had been completely taken with her in less than one day. Had she been older….
“If I may interrupt,” Legolas said, “may I be so bold as to speak on behalf of these two? I have no daughter, but if I had one, I should feel honored and privileged to have either of these fellows as a son-in-law. Despite all their swaggering and posturing, they are two of the truest and bravest hearts you would ever wish to see. Devoted to their mother and sisters, and they cannot see a lady in distress without rushing to her aid and risking their own necks to save a total stranger. And they have been through much. There’s far more to them than meets the eye. No useless pretty ornaments dangling about the court enjoying the spoils of war, are they. They have come through battle, weather, torture, privation, loss, plague, heartbreak, and sore temptation, and emerged with their heads held high and a song on their lips. And not only did they fight courageously in the War, they further did their part with the healing arts they learned from their father, and saved many a life. They’ve saved my life more than once. Oft have I seen them put the needs of others before their own…which is why they are here now instead of over the Sea. And things are never dull with them about. They would both make excellent husbands and fathers. I cannot speak highly enough of them, and although I will admit Elladan’s timing is a bit…premature, I would ask that you consider his request for Serilinn’s hand in all seriousness and know that his intentions are honorable. He would not trifle with her affections in any careless form or fashion.”
“I thank you from the depths of my heart for that warm and sincere advocation, my dearest friend,” Elladan said with unmistakable humility.
“As do I,” Elrohir said, “and I also thank you, my brother, for the chance to speak my mind as well. Of course the choice must be hers, in the end. And in very truth, I must say, I think my brother would be the better one. I do not think I should marry at any time, at least not until I have long sailed. There is too much that has accumulated in my heart and mind, and there is no telling how long it will take to break up and wash away. I have tried more than once to gain a maiden’s affections, and always did all that accumulation stand in her way, and she would go away in frustration. I can promise naught. And I dare say it was more his doing that our mother was saved, than mine, since he had no hesitation, as I did, about following her into the mountains. So, I think I should withdraw, and allow Elladan to ply his suit without competition from myself. Although ‘tis a difficult matter for me, to be sure.”
“She is too young,” Greenjade said. “And that is all there is to it. I will conclude that you are sincere, but the fact remains that she is still a child. When she is of age, then she may make up her own mind. Likely I will not even be around by that time. When will that be? Forty, fifty years from now? And you can wait that long?”
“Twice as long,” Elladan said. “So, my lass. What say you? Would you consider me as your husband, when you are ready for one?”
“I would,” Serilinn said. “I will have you, if you still want me then. But it is hard to make up my mind between the two of you. I know I cannot have both. If only you could come together as one!”
“You have made me a most happy Elf,” Elladan said rising at last. “I do not even remember the last time I was truly happy. In faith, I believe this is the first time. Were it not so undignified, I would do handsprings.”
Greenjade could scarcely help but notice how woebegone his brother looked, standing behind him.
“I am happy also,” Serilinn said, and she was completely irradiated. “Would it be wrong to sing and dance here, in this holy place?”
“Not that sort of singing and dancing,” Radagast chuckled. “However, we should be going now. I am growing ever more curious about that surprise.”
The twins embraced, then they hugged Legolas, and Serilinn hugged Sméagol impulsively, then Legolas, when he was free, then Radagast, then Greenjade, whispering, “I love you, Ada, and thank you sooo much.”
Elladan came up to Greenjade after that, saying a bit chokily, “Be assured she will be in excellent hands after you have quit this earth. No maid has ever touched my heart as she has.”
He seemed full of sunlight as a crystal, casting rainbows all about.
“Are we there yet?” Serilinn asked two days later, emerging from the back of the wagon where she had been trying to nap.
“Not yet,” Radagast smiled, “but closer than we were.”
She scarcely heard his reply for looking at Elladan, who was riding not so far ahead now.
“Did you see any men in grass skirts?” she asked. Radagast and Sméagol laughed.
“It's rather cold for grass skirts now,” Radagast said.
“We are approaching the Beacon of Amon Din,” Legolas said. “It is the last one…or the first, depending on which direction one is going. I can see the Tower already.”
Serilinn fairly bounced in her seat.
This is it, thought Greenjade. The end of life as I know it.
Drive more slowly, please, he thought…then realized that he was the one driving.
“I suppose we should stop and freshen up soon,” Radagast said. “We are not exactly dressed to be presented in court.”
“Where is the nearest inn?” Greenjade asked.
“I do not even know if there be one along this stretch,” Radagast said. “And we cannot bathe in a stream this time of year. Ho, Legolas! Know you if there be a place we can stop?”
“We will have to wait until we get to the City,” Legolas said. “There are bathhouses there where we can stop before meeting with the King. And laundresses who can press your clothes and help you to spruce up. The King will expect it, and has instructed the guards to let us through.”
“Ah, wonderful,” Radagast said. And they rode on.
An hour later they saw the Beacon.
“What are we going to do with Nilde?” Serilinn asked when they had passed it. “I suppose she cannot go to Mordor with us? Perhaps we should have left her at Edoras.”
“I thought of doing that,” Radagast said. “But I think Ithilien would be the best place for her. It is much closer, and we can come and see her from time to time.”
“Pretty doggie does not go with us?” Sméagol spoke up.
“Nay, Sméagol,” Radagast said. “We cannot take her with us—yet. Perhaps by and by we can send for her, but as it is now, I fear not. I do not wish to leave her behind any more than you do, my lad. But I have known all the while that she could not go with us, and that someday we would have to do the right thing by her.”
The sun seemed to have gone behind a cloud, and the breeze felt much chillier.
Serilinn was silent. Sméagol looked ready to burst into tears.
Nilde looked up at the sound of her name. Rusco twittered.
“I have been dreading this moment,” Radagast said. “A wonderful companion and comfort she has been to us, indeed, and I have loved her as I have loved no other creature in my care, and that is saying much. But I love her enough to do what is best for her, and put her needs before my own, and the time has finally come for that. Yet we have a little time left, at that, and let us enjoy it, rather than mourning, for we will have plenty of time for that later. Ah, upon my word, I can see the White City in the distance. Can you?”
Greenjade looked up, and indeed, he saw something, around the bend in the road, rising against the mountain wall behind it, white and pointed and pearl-pure.
“And there are dwellings all about, outside the wall,” the Wizard noted. “See them? It has expanded also. Perhaps there is a place we can stop there, without going in the wall.”
“I’ll wear my white dress,” Serilinn said, “since the City is white. The one Lady Lothiriel made for me, that is.”
“Good idea,” Radagast said.
And they did stop at a bathhouse that stood on the very outskirt of the City. Greenjade was even able to get hold of a barber, who trimmed his hair and beard. He had thought to have it shaved, but decided against it. Garland would just have to get used to it. He put on the clothing that had been provided for him, consisting of a white shirt, a brown velvet doublet sparingly trimmed with gold, black leggings and high boots, and a beautifully tooled leather belt with a buckle in the shape of a horse’s head. And a dark brown cloak over all, lined in gold silk, and fastened at the throat with a gold clasp studded with bloodstones.
He drew in his breath when he stood before a full-length mirror. Garland will not recognize me, he thought, and he found a peculiar satisfaction at the thought.
Sméagol was got up fine also, in a similar ensemble, but with a dark gold doublet instead, and brown leggings.
The Elves all fairly gawked at Serilinn when she emerged in her white dress, her hair brushed and clean and a silver ornament holding it in the back, shaped like a butterfly. The Queen had given it to her, of course. The dress was simple, with a round neckline embroidered with silver scrolls and a high waistline belted in silver. The sleeves were sheer filmy white stuff from above the elbows, floating behind her like fairy wings, silver embroidery above them, and her feet were in small white slippers also worked in silver, her legs in white silk stockings. The sunlight made highlights of purple and indigo in her hair.
“There is a vision to remember for all time,” Elladan said softly, unable to take his eyes from her. Elrohir was silent, just gazing.
“She is as the White Tree, in human form,” Radagast said. Greenjade looked at him in surprise. His throat tightened a little.
“Do you like it, Ada Greenjade?” she asked somewhat timidly.
“You are perfection,” he said without hesitation, brushing her cheek with his fingertips. “I have never seen anything lovelier.”
“Leave the wagon in the stable,” Legolas said finally. “The King is sending a carriage for us. I’ve already sent word to him that we have arrived.”
The carriage arrived about a quarter of an hour later, drawn by two white horses. The driver was a handsome gentleman wearing a black velvet surcoat embroidered with a white tree. His eyes widened in appreciation of Serilinn’s beauty, as the Elves nearly bumped into each other rushing to assist her into the carriage, but Greenjade got there first, and helped her in. She smiled graciously at all as she took her place. The seats were of black velvet, the windows small and round.
“This is so elegant!” she exclaimed. “King Eomer’s carriage was not so fine as this. It looked very old.”
The Elves rode behind as the carriage traveled along the road to the gate of the White City.
“How very magnificent,” Serilinn whispered, and Greenjade had to hold her back to keep her from sticking her head out the window. “Did you ever see such splendor? I’m afraid I will go blind from looking.”
“Look,” she said, “there are sheep grazing out there…and tall pointed trees….”
“Look,” she said, “there are flower gardens all over the place. Was there really a battle fought out here?”
“Look,” she said, “there is the gate before us. Who are those statues upon it?”
“They are of dwarven make,” Radagast said. “They are of steel and mithrill, and represent the first great kings.”
And there were streets gleaming white, with fountains and trees growing all about, and splendid gardens, and shops and houses all about hung with balconies, and boxes of flowers set in the windows…and children playing here and there, and people standing in clusters gossiping, laughing, buying at the markets, and when they saw the carriage, many screamed in excitement, running to meet it. Several shouted greetings to the Elves, a few maidens flung flowers at them, and the Elves smiled hugely and waved, blowing kisses. They rode along until they reached another level, Serilinn commenting on how the road spiraled up and up, and there were more buildings, and some tables and chairs set out on the street, people waving down from balconies, others shouting out, hawking their wares, and the Elves stopped to buy flowers. These they gave to Serilinn to hold, a huge bunch of white roses and ferns. And on they went, and up and up…and there was the delicious smell of bread baking, issuing from the bakeries…
Sméagol looked more and more anxious, and Nilde looked downright frightened, until Radagast suggested letting her out of the carriage so she could run on behind. Rusco twittered until Greenjade felt like swatting at him, fearing he’d make a mess on Radagast’s robe…which he already had. But the Wizard seemed to think nothing of it.
And up and up they went.
And the Tower was in sight, gleaming blindingly in the sunlight.
And the Hall of Kings stood before them. And the White Tree, about twelve feet high, with flowers growing at the foot.
And across from it, the Monument, depicting the Ringbearers.
“They are exactly as I pictured them,” Serilinn whispered as she and Greenjade and Radagast and Sméagol stood before them, the three Elves standing reverently behind.
Greenjade was speechless. The monument was made of some sort of luminous white stone—not marble, for he knew how that looked. It was set on a black marble block, however. It faced eastward, set across from the Tree, and there were small benches all about.
“I have not seen this before,” Radagast whispered after a long moment.
“He is just as I saw him in my dream,” Greenjade said, feeling an urge to kneel. “The features are just the same. I can scarcely believe my eyes.”
“It was made by the sculptor Annunlanthir,” Legolas said. “He is the son of Alkakhleion, designer of the Argonath.”
Greenjade didn’t ask what the Argonath was. He could scarcely take his eyes from the Monument.
“I know not what to say,” Serilinn said. And all fell silent.
“Well,” Radagast said, “I suppose we should go in now.”
He took Greenjade’s arm, for the man hardly seemed to have heard him.
King Elessar, or Aragorn as Legolas called him, rose from the throne as the four Travelers were brought into the hall, as did the Queen Arwen. He was in the black surcoat embroidered with the White Tree, a silver circlet on his head. He was considerably older than Eomer, Greenjade noted, his dark hair nearly half silvered, his beard also. He was nearly as tall, not so powerfully built, his face craggy and full of years, and wisdom and goodness, and purity of a sort Greenjade did not know how to name. And his wife…Radagast had said she was the most beautiful living being on earth. Greenjade drew in his breath. She was clad in pale silver trimmed in rich black, a circlet of mithrill on her dark hair which cascaded in ripples far past her waist. She could have passed for Lothiriel’s sister, he thought, only she was far more beautiful. She seemed all illuminated also, like one of the bejeweled formations in the Caves, dazzling in the light that streamed in the eastern window.
Nilde sat at Sméagol 's feet, scratching herself.
A young woman in an apron and cap stood apart from the rest, holding two children by the hand, a boy of about five and a little girl nearly two years old, both of them gazing open-mouthed at the new visitors. The maid-child looked as the Queen must have looked at her age, and she was astonishingly well-behaved. Eldarion and Luthien, the children's names were, and the young nursemaid was Mikala.
But where was Garland?
“I hope your trip was not too exhausting,” the King was saying. “I can see you were well taken care of by my brothers…or should I say my brothers-in-law?”
He looked at the twins with twinkling eyes. Radagast chuckled.
“Oh, you’ve no idea,” he said.
Greenjade glanced around. They were keeping her hidden, he thought. Waiting to trot her out so they can see the look on his face. Serilinn had begged him to act surprised. Well, he would do his best, but acting was not among his talents, he feared.
“Well,” the Wizard said, “according to Eomer, you have a surprise for us? Are we to find out what it is now, or must we wait until after dinner?”
“We will bring it out in a moment,” Queen Arwen spoke up, looking straight at Greenjade with her incredibly lovely, dusky eyes. How did the King manage to live alongside of such beauty, day after day, night after night? It must be positively terrifying. Yet there was no doubt that he had earned the privilege. “However, we must deliver a piece of news first. Greenjade, that is your name?”
Greenjade nodded. It was embarrassing to be at such a loss for words.
“Greenjade, we have news of your wife…Garland?” She raised her eyebrows, looking first to Radagast, then back to Greenjade.
“Aye…my sea-mate. But wait…'news' of her? She is not here?”
“Is that what you thought?” the Queen said. “Oh dear…I am sorry. I should have known you would suppose that. Nay, she is not here. She is in Ithilien, living amongst a community of Elves who are laboring to restore it to its former beauty. Legolas did not tell you?”
“I asked him not to,” the King spoke up. “Aye, she is in Ithilien…and I regret to inform you, she has lost her heart to an Elf there, and he to her, and they are betrothed. I am sorry. She is out of the Pit, as you wished, through the intervention of the Ringbearer, as Radagast told us. However…”
“It is all right,” Greenjade heard himself saying, feeling a mixture of hurt and relief that was nearly overwhelming. “I only wished her out of that place. I did not necessarily wish to be back with her.”
I could have been with Nell now, he thought numbly.
“So what is the surprise?” Radagast asked.
The Queen smiled, handed the white roses to the King, and went over to a door across the right side of the great hall, and nodded to someone the others could not see. A figure in a silvery-grey cloak appeared, the hood drawn over its head, a light-blue skirt showing beneath the cloak. The Queen extended a hand to it, and a fair hand appeared, taking Arwen’s, and the Queen led her into the hall. Then with a slight and modest gesture, she drew back the cloak and let Arwen take it from her, revealing a head of hair so golden and rippling, it made all the golden trimmings of the hall look cheap and brassy by comparison. Her face, every bit as lovely as the Queen’s, emerged from beneath the hair, eyes as blue as the lapis stone that graced the small pendant she wore, lips as ruddy as the coral bits surrounding the stone….
And Serilinn ran straight to her with a scream that could likely have been heard from the front gate.