All had adjourned to a more comfortable sitting-room, where Meleth told her story over hot tea and pastries. A cheery fire burned in the fireplace, over which hung two crossed swords. The children had been put down for their afternoon nap.
Greenjade sat with Radagast and Sméagol on a couch, across from where Meleth sat with Serilinn snuggled at her side. Traces of tears still showed on both their faces. The three male Elves sat about in chairs or on the rug, while the King and Queen sat together on a divan. Nilde lay at her master’s feet.
“It was as you thought,” Meleth said. “Duathris heard of my plan to take you away with me, and so she drained me of my blood as I slept, and she and Gaergath cast my body into a ditch and covered it deep. I was shown the Gardens, where I saw my parents and the lover who had been slain in battle so many, many years before, yet I could only think of my lamb. And they told me someone was coming to rescue you, but I could not help but worry, to think of you alone in the world with no motherly hand to guide you. And so I begged them to let me go to you. And here I am, and to think what you must have suffered…”
Greenjade felt as though facing his darkest hour, sitting there looking at Meleth, who might as well have been a shriveled hag. She would take his darling from him, sail away with her and he would never see her again….
Oh, Serilinn would feel badly about leaving him. If you want me to stay here, Ada Greenjade, I will, she would say. And he would see the longing in her eyes to go with Meleth…and could he say, Go then, my child, and find your joy?
It would be the ultimate test. And could he pass it?
His head spun. He was trying to say, Yes, go, and yet no words would come. And all at once he saw his stepfather standing on the Cracks of Doom, the Ring dangling above the fire, unable to drop it in….
“Perhaps we can sail now,” Meleth was saying over the roaring of the lava. “I do not suppose…”
“There are no Elven ships going to Valinor now,” the King said, and Greenjade barely restrained himself from throwing himself at his feet in gratitude. “The Nimloth has been at sea for three years, and sometimes I fear she is lost. Frodo and Bilbo sailed on the Barahir, which was the last to leave Middle-earth, but according to Samwise, who claims to have communication with Frodo yet, her captain, Orobar, has not settled in Valinor but has set sail once more. Whether or not he will return here, I could not say. So it is not possible for the two of you to sail in the near future. If the Nimloth should return…”
“We can go when Legolas goes,” Serilinn said lifting her head from Meleth’s shoulder. “I would not go now even if the ships returned, for I could not leave my Ada Greenjade, and I must go to Mordor also. Meleth, if you would go to Valinor now...”
“You do not think I would go without my lamb?” cried Meleth. “I can wait. There would be naught there for me if you were not with me.”
Greenjade fairly wanted to weep with relief, and Meleth looked impossibly beautiful. Still…she would take Serilinn from him, just the same…or would she?
“Nay, you cannot go to Mordor, my lass,” the King spoke up. “I cannot allow it.”
“But…” Serilinn looked at him pleadingly.
“It cannot be,” the King held up one hand. “It will be at least three, five, perhaps more years before it will come close to being habitable for you. And even so, there is no reason why you should be compelled to go, even if you are as you have said.”
“I have a plan for you,” the Queen said. Serilinn looked at her. “I shall place you in the Academy for young ladies that I have founded in Osgiliath. Some time ago I saw how many bright girls there are in Gondor and Rohan, and how little opportunity for education they had. And so I set up a school especially for them, and it is flourishing. And Meleth shall live close by. Eowyn, Princess of Ithilien, has a small cottage in the country, which her husband gave her as a wedding gift. She has trouble to keep it up since she first became a mother, and she is expecting her second child. But Meleth could take care of it, and have room and board and a small salary for seeing to its upkeep. It is in a very beautiful spot, and I think you would love it. And…” Arwen looked down at Nilde and smiled. “…the dog could stay there with you, and the others could come see her occasionally. What think you of this plan?”
“It sounds wonderful, my lady,” Meleth said, and Greenjade could see where Serilinn had come by her gracious manner. “How far is it from the school?”
“About twenty miles. Serilinn would have to live at the school, but she could come to you on the weekends and holidays. You would have neighbors, for there are nice people living about the countryside. So you would not be lonely.”
“It sounds the perfect plan,” Radagast said. “What think you, Greenjade?”
Greenjade nodded halfheartedly. Well. At least she would not be going where he would never see her again. “It sounds good to me,” he said.
“I wish to adopt you as my daughter,” Meleth said to Serilinn. “What think you of that?”
“Oh, that would be so…” Serilinn clasped her hands in delight, then stopped, looking to Greenjade. “But he wishes to adopt me also. And…”
“Well, if that is what you wish, then I will abide by your choice, my lamb,” Meleth said smiling a little. “He saved you when I failed to do so, and it is only right that he should have you. I will content myself with being your nurse only, and your best friend, when you no longer need my care.”
She was surpassing even the Queen in her beauty, thought Greenjade. How generous of her to leave the choice up to Serilinn…but still…. Well, he had known all along that the girl could not go to Mordor. And this was the best thing that could possibly have happened. It seemed almost too good to be true.
“I know!” Serilinn sprang up, and had never looked more radiant. “You could marry! Then you could BOTH be my parents!”
The King and Queen both stifled a startled laugh, as did the Elves, and Greenjade did something he had not done since getting a glimpse of everything the Lady Lothiriel had to offer. He blushed. And could have sworn Meleth was doing likewise.
“But, my lamb…” she protested gently, laughing a little also. “We have known each other less than an hour yet! And—”
“Oh, you would adore each other!” Serilinn exclaimed. “And you would make such a beautiful couple. Don’t you think so?” She looked radiantly at all the others. “Ada Greenjade, what think you?”
“Well…as she said, we scarcely know each other,” he said. “And…we are not of the same kind, you know.”
“The King and Queen are not the same kind,” Serilinn pointed out, “and they get on splendidly…and they make a beautiful couple also, do you not think?”
The King chuckled a little and the Queen smiled in delight.
“I agree they would make a lovely couple,” she said, “but I am afraid it is a bit premature to be matchmaking. And although I made the choice myself, I do not recommend it. Elves do not often survive the grief of losing a mortal mate. It kills us. I do not expect to survive it. I went into this marriage with my eyes open, never overestimating my own strength. I have no regrets, save that it means I will not see my parents again in this life. Even so, I would not recommend it. The choice will be up to them, of course. But, my child, I would wish you not to ask more of them than they may be capable of giving. Even if they do not both adopt you officially, and remain only friends for all their lives, could you not be content to know that they each regard you as the daughter of their hearts?”
For some reason, Greenjade glanced aside and saw one of the Elf-twins looking at Meleth with unmistakable longing. Elrohir, he concluded, in mingled relief and dismay. Evidently Elladan still had eyes for Serilinn, although he was not looking at her just then, but rather at the floor, on which he sat at his brother’s feet.
Serilinn seemed to have forgotten both of them.
“I could,” she said in answer to the Queen’s question. “Still, it would be so lovely to have both a father and a mother, living together, and maybe have brothers and sisters, like other folks.”
“I know you do, my love,” Radagast said. “However, as you know it’s a most imperfect world, and not everyone can have it that way, much as we wish it might be. Still and all, you need someone to be a parent officially, in order to make certain decisions as to your welfare legally. Therefore, you must have a legal guardian. And if you wish someone else to choose for you, then you have only to ask. I think either of them would make excellent parents, but I think the better option would be Meleth, since she will be the one with whom you will be living, and the one who will abide with you when Greenjade has quit this earth. I’m sorry, Greenjade, but I think you will agree on this.”
“I believe you are right,” Arwen said, “although I am certain Greenjade has done a wonderful job of looking after her. What say you, little one?”
“I cannot decide,” Serilinn said, tears springing into her eyes. “So I shall let Radagast choose for me. But in here—“ she pointed to her small bosom—“you both are my parents and always will be.”
“Then it is settled,” Radagast said. “Meleth will legally adopt you as her daughter. You shall attend the Queen’s school, and when you have completed your education, we will see about your coming to Mordor. We will concern ourselves with the present only. In the meantime I hope you will write to us from time to time to let us know how you are doing. There is a post that goes into Mordor, is there not?”
“There is,” the King said, “but once a week. Still, I think it will be enough. I am glad it is all settled. I wish you all to be my guests for the winter. It is little use going to Mordor this time of year. Lately we have started celebrating Yule here, and I wish you all to spend it with me. We can find work for all of you until springtime, since I am sure you do not wish to sit idle the entire time. Maybe you greatly enjoy your stay.”
Half an hour later everyone was settled into the Palace. Greenjade, Sméagol, and Radagast each got rooms to themselves, side by side, while Meleth and Serilinn shared a room directly above them. The King himself showed them the suites.
“I think you will like this one,” he said to Greenjade as he unlocked the door. It looked out on a long and wide terrace overlooking a garden that was still blooming with roses and evergreen shrubs. The terrace had a round large table with several chairs, and some small trees standing about in large pots or holes in the floor, some of them hung with chimes and bird feeders, and the rail still had vines twining about it. The sun was beginning to sink in the western mountains, tinting the peaks with gold and coral. “The sculptor Annûnlanthir used it when he was here fashioning the Monument you saw by the Tree, six years ago. You can see it if you lean over the rail a bit.”
The room was small and simply but comfortably furnished, with a tapestry or two on the walls, and the open door to one side revealed a sunken tub, and the door in the other side opened to a substantial closet. The door at the back opened into the hallway, and directly across was another door to a larger room with a table and many bookshelves.
“That is the library,” the King said. “Feel free to make use of it. I would like for all of you to take your evening meals with us. We have a most excellent cook—she is the mother of the nursemaid Mikala, whom you met earlier. You will not enjoy such cooking in Mordor, unfortunately, so I suggest you let her spoil you for the time you will be staying here.”
“She’s a bit young for a nursemaid, isn’t she,” Greenjade remarked idly, glancing toward the stairwell from which he could hear Serilinn’s and Meleth’s voices issuing above.
“Aye, she will turn twenty in the spring,” Aragorn said. “We had an older woman when Eldarion was born, but she took ill and died, and young Mikala was Arwen’s handmaiden at the time. She took over looking after our son and had such a way with him, we let her stay on. She is far more capable than she appears, and she adores both children, but I agree they are getting to be a handful for her. Meleth has been helping her with them, and I shall continue to have her do so until the spring, after which we will hire someone else. She has been teaching Eldarion his letters—he’s young for it, I know, but he’s a very bright little lad if I do say so, and expressed a burning desire to learn, and Meleth is an excellent teacher. She can tutor Serilinn in the afternoons, and in the mornings Serilinn can help Mikala with the baby. An astonishing lass, your Serilinn. I believe the Queen and I are already a little in love with her ourselves.”
Serilinn came running downstairs just then, luminous against the dim steps, in her white dress and fairy-wing sleeves.
“Ada Greenjade! Sméagol! Come up and see our room!” she called, grabbing Greenjade's hand. Radagast appeared from his room and soon she was hauling all three of them upstairs, rather like a white butterfly trying to lug along three brown geese. The King and his brothers-in-law, chuckling, brought up the rear.
Meleth and Arwen were lighting candles in the room, which was much larger than the men’s rooms. A bed with silk and lace curtains stood in the middle, covered with a gold satin quilted spread and pillows in gorgeously embroidered shams. White lace curtains hung at the windows, and a door opened onto a balcony where blooming plants stood in painted pots. Candles sat about on the furniture and in wall sconces, illuminating the tapestries on the walls and beautiful vases and figurines on shelves. A little table with two chairs stood off in one corner, with a bowl of roses on it, and a small fireplace burned on the other side of the room, a wreath of dried vines and flowers hanging over it.
And three of the loveliest females Greenjade had ever seen stood in it, two of them holding candles whose flames were reflected in their eyes. It seemed full of stars and crystals and music and joy.
“Did you ever see such a beautiful room?” Serilinn said softly. “I do not think I can sleep in it. Even the Caves were not so lovely.”
And a gentle smile spread over Greenjade’s face, and it was as if a sheet of ice had broken up in him and melted in the sunlight, showing water of entrancing and eternal blueness beneath. He felt as if one of the candles were inside of him now, and he was taking on a light of his own, for the first time.
“Perfect,” was all he could find to say.
Aragorn gave him a job helping in the stables, and paid him well. He provided them all with strongboxes in which to keep their money. Radagast was allowed to go directly to the houses of the sick or injured, and administer his healing skills to them and their beasts. Sméagol was put to work in the kitchen once more, helping the cook and cleaning up after meals. Later in the day they might sit in on the King’s councils, discussing the plans for the Mordor project, and Serilinn and Meleth sat in on these also. In the evenings they attended theatrical productions, or sporting events, or simply ambled about the streets taking in the sights, visiting the shops, watching street musicians, or if it grew too cold, they might gather in the sitting room and discuss or play parlor games. More clothes were made for Serilinn, mostly in gay colors, yet of a practical sort for everyday wear.
Greenjade got the opportunity to hone his skill with sword and bow in the courtyard, along with the twins and Legolas, who were pleased to instruct him…until, to his dismay, he found himself warming up to them more and more. There were sparring matches given frequently, and he got the chance to participate in one of them against the King himself. And found that he could hold his own.
“I am a bit out of practice,” Aragorn confessed sheepishly as he rose after an unexpectedly prodigious hit, “and not so young as I was. I dare say I should lay down the sword for all time…but it seems to have a mind of its own.”
Greenjade thought of a naughty joke he could make…until he saw Meleth smiling at him.
Yet his skills as a ladykiller seemed to have deserted him completely in her presence. He felt all thumbs and two left feet, a gawky schoolboy. It was most embarrassing. He tried to keep his distance, since his heart was still sore from the intense battering it had received at Nell’s hands, and he did not wish any more breakage. He felt inclined to shield it, and might have done so...but for the fact that he had competition.
In fact he heard the Elves talking one day in the room adjoining the gymnasium, as he was trying to repair the fletching on some of his arrows. They seemed to have forgotten he was about.
“Nay, you’ll have no competition from me, brother,” Elladan was saying. “My heart belongs to another. She is all yours, and I wish you both the best of luck…although unfortunately, she has still another vying for her favors as well. I believe Greenjade is mortally smitten, or well on the way to it. And he has the most proximity to her at the moment. To be sure, you are far better looking—not that he’s hideous, as Men go—and you are a war hero, and an Elf to boot…I assume you are still an Elf?”
“I am,” Elrohir said. “I have made my choice, for the sake of Meleth, and hope I shall not live to regret it.”
“Ah, wonderful,” Elladan said with quiet but obvious joy. “Well, it is up to chance to see who shall win her hand. Greenjade did save Serilinn, which is all he has going for him, I suppose—which makes him all right in my book, although I doubt he feels the same about me.”
“Well, you can scarcely blame him,” Legolas said laughing, “the way you swooped down on her like a hawk in the chicken-yard that day. Your audacity fairly left me gasping. I wonder that you are still attached to a certain portion of your male anatomy. I must admire his restraint.”
All three Elves laughed.
“Well, you know what they say about the early bird,” Elladan said. “Or early hawk, if you like. However, not being one of those degenerates who stalks children, I mean to keep my distance. There is no official betrothal, and Meleth’s sudden appearance seems to have eclipsed things anyway. Serilinn scarcely looks my way now. I can but wait and bide my time, even if it be for half a century. Sweet Eru, do you realize that if you were to marry Meleth, that would make me Serilinn's uncle? How could I marry my niece?”
He sighed. Greenjade grinned a bit smugly.
“Well, did not our sister marry her brother, in effect?” Elrohir said. “Pity that our situations are not reversed. I could use that half-century to flush out the noxious matter than has accumulated in my soul, so that I should be purged and clean by the time my beloved was old enough. I wonder you do not have that matter also, brother.”
“Who says I haven’t?” Elladan said. “I suppose you have more because you are of a finer nature. I’m too oafish to have it to such an extent. Still, that’s not to say I haven't it. One cannot spend five hundred years trying to rid the continent of orcs without absorbing a bit of orcishness oneself. But now you have motivation, at least. Perhaps the flushing-out process will not take as long as you thought.”
“I do hope you are right,” Elrohir said. “She reminds me somewhat of our mother, don't you think? In her manner mainly. And a bit about the eyes as well.”
Greenjade’s grin faded.
And so when Serilinn begged him to come for a walk with her and Meleth, he simply could not tell them nay.
Serilinn wore her new warm white cloak trimmed with fur, but she let the hood hang down in back, since she did not feel cold so easily. Meleth had a similar cloak, while Greenjade wore the one he had received in Edoras. He felt the cold, yet left his hood off also. At one point, Meleth pulled hers up, saying she felt chilly, but Greenjade strongly suspected she was trying to get him to put his up also. After a moment, he did so, in a carefully casual way.
“I simply love this city,” Serlinn said as they strolled through the streets, which were softly alive with people…for since the War had ended and peace had prevailed, the streets were never quite deserted even late at night. Torches burned all about the ramparts. People hung about in clusters, warming their hands over small fires, or sitting in the restaurants, chatting, listening to poetry recitals, or performing music. “It’s so different from Edoras. Even though both cities are on a hill. Minas Tirith is much more full of light and sound and art and color. And the people seem gayer and friendlier. I suppose it’s because it’s so much bigger.”
Meleth laughed a little…a sound like cool water trickling over mossy stone on a cliffside.
“It is a city far more concerned with intellectual matters,” she said in her beautifully modulated voice. “The folk are curious as to learning and education and the arts, and do not fear change. From what I hear of Edoras, the folk are of an agrarian sort, and are not so interested in doings of the mind. So perhaps they seem stuck in a bygone era. Minas Tirith is more modern and progressive. And so she seems vibrant and glowing, and full of music and mirth. It is as if she, too, has been sent back from the realms of the dead, and has emerged newly-born and alive with light and color.”
“We must have such a city in Calador,” Serilinn said. “I insist upon it. Perhaps we could build it on Mt. Doom? We must rename it also.”
Meleth laughed again, and so did Greenjade.
“I doubt we should build it on a volcano, my love,” he said. “Yes, the King says it is dormant, but that may be taking too much of a chance.”
“I think so too,” Meleth said, “although it is a delightful idea. Perhaps we can find a smaller and friendlier hill. The castle can crown the crest, and far below, we might put on a play reenacting the story of the Quest, and give it each year. Perhaps people could come from everywhere to see it. I have read the story in the copy of the Book the King had made, and I think perhaps I could write the play myself, although unfortunately much would have to be left out. But surely we could capture the essence.”
“Oh, do you think so?” Serilinn clasped her hands once more. “I want to be in it! May I? Ada Greenjade must be in it also. He could play Strider. The twins could play Boromir and Faramir. And you could play the Lady Galadriel. Legolas says your hair is very like hers. He says you are not nearly so tall, but you could tie something to your shoes to make you look taller. Your skirt could hide it.”
Meleth and Greenjade both laughed uproariously at that.
And their eyes met suddenly in the torchlight, over Serilinn’s head, and all the City seemed to pause and take notice, the Tower gleaming as if it had caught a stray star on the fly.