Greenjade awoke to the sound of singing.
For a long moment he did not open his eyes, but lay in his bed, wondering if he had crossed over into the Gardens at last. The voices seemed to be coming from above. The language was not known to him, but the voices and the melody were beautiful beyond description.
At last he opened his eyes. The fire had gone out in the small fireplace, yet it was still warm in the room, and he could smell the fragrance of burning pine wood. It was partially light outside. The only sound he heard was the two soprano voices from above, and they seemed to be coming from outside the door. Yet when he glanced out the window, he could see no one out there.
Greenjade had not known it was possible to be so happy.
Soon a tap came at his door, and he rose, fumbled for his dressing-gown from the chair, saying, “Come in!” A young page appeared with a tray on which was a steaming pot of tea, a cup, and a saucer with a couple of hot pastries on it, smelling of cinnamon. Greenjade took it and thanked him, and the lad went out closing the door behind him. Greenjade set the tray on the small table in the corner of the room, then found he was too happy to eat. He put some wood in the fireplace, in which there were a few flickering embers still, and he coaxed them into a small blaze, then sat down to his breakfast once more. He poured out some tea into the cup, and sniffed the sweet and spicy aroma of it with a smile. Then bit into one of the pastries. The deliciousness of it fairly brought tears into his eyes.
Another tap later on, and the page appeared with a pitcher of warm water. Greenjade took it with a smile and set it in the bowl on the chest of drawers, then visited the privy in back of the bathing-room. The voices continued to sing as he came back, washed his face and hands at the bowl, combed his hair, got dressed. Then he went out on the terrace. It was cold and the sky was still grey, but he did not go back for his cloak.
Meleth and Serilinn sat on the balcony above, and they stopped singing and called to him, waving. He smiled and blew two kisses up to them. It was Serilinn who sprang from her seat at the small round table and leaned over the balcony, crying, “Ada Greenjade, come on up!” while Meleth smiled dotingly upon her.
Meleth was now officially her mother.
The adoption ceremony had taken place in the small temple that had been built four years ago for the worship of the Creator. It was a structure of austere beauty, but it had windows of colored glass forming images of the Valar on the sides, and a large round window depicting a brilliant star upon a dark blue and purple background. Inside were many long benches and a table with tall candles on it, and a pitcher of white flowers between them. The witnesses were few: the King and Queen, the twins, Legolas, a priest and a lawyer. And of course, Radagast, Greenjade and Sméagol. Even Nilde was allowed to come in, at Serilinn’s request.
Meleth recited a poem she had written especially for the occasion.
Child of mine, lost lamb found at last
Long did I bear thee to my breast
Through thorny fields, through ashy lands
Through marshy floods and blazing sands
I would have fled with thee to gardens rich with bloom
And watched thee flourish in meadow and coomb
By crystal cove or sylvan halls
Or singing o'er bright waterfalls
But the fell darkness snatched thee away
And thy shepherdess could but watch and wait.
But now thou art mine, thy mother I am
My daughter to be, no longer lamb
Together we shall walk in the Light
From fear removed, set free from night
Walk with me through garden and glen
By fountain and field, through forest and fen
Through city street and country lane
Mother and child we move once again
Learning from each other, abiding in love
From now 'til the stars fall from above!
“Come up, Ada Greenjade!” Serilinn called again. He smiled, went back into his room and out the back door, and climbed the stairs.
And now they all sat on the balcony, in the coolness of the morning. Meleth fetched a small blanket for him to wrap about himself. He tried to refuse, but Serilinn looked pleadingly at him, and he suffered himself to be covered, and found it much more comfortable, at that. They plied him with hot sweet tea and nutty rolls that Serilinn had saved for him and warmed at the fireplace.
This must be what it was like to have a real family, he thought as he listened to Serilinn’s blithe chatter about what they would do that day, and stole glances at Meleth, who was wearing a morning-gown of a shade of blue he would forever associate with her—periwinkle, he would learn later.
Perhaps a time would come when he would not have to steal those glances.
He had some idea what Radagast would say, but he chose not to think of it just now. Just for today, he would bask in happiness and hope, and give no thought to the future and the eventual separation that awaited. It had been two weeks since their arrival.
Much later in the morning, he got his first chance to be alone with Meleth.
Well, not so much alone. He came upon her attending to the trees and plants on the terrace, and drew in his breath sharply, until he heard voices down in the garden and saw Serilinn with Mikala and the little ones. Mikala was pushing Eldarion in a swing that hung from a tree limb, while Serilinn held little Lúthien balanced on her hip and was spinning her around and around, making her squeal with delight. Presently a girl of about fifteen came along, leading a tiny boy of about three by the hand, and they joined the others. Greenjade had met her once before; she was Mikala’s sister Eruanna—better known as Ruan. The child was their baby brother, Gandalf. Radagast had chuckled at his name, and wondered what cousin Olórin would think if he knew he had a namesake. And Aragorn laughed, saying there were several Gandalfs in the city now. A rather homely little lad this one, with a large forehead and small chin, and a nose likely to be big when he grew older. He seemed rather shy, unlike Eldarion, who was bold almost to the point of forwardness, indefatigably energetic, and already had the makings of a leader.
“He takes after me,” Elladan had joked once, as his little nephew came running at him with flying fists, and he swung Eldarion up to his shoulder, smacked his behind and spun around with him, making the little lad howl with pretended indignation. Greenjade had noticed that Elladan was the one more popular with children. Elrohir said it was because he told the best stories. Elladan could remember tales of the devilment he and his brother had gotten into as lads, whereas Elrohir remembered mainly stories of more recent events, and he tended to clean them up when telling them to the very young. Likely they could tell when he was leaving out things, he said.
Little Lúthien looked much as her mother must have looked as a toddler. Her beauty left Greenjade flattened. And she was a bit of a flirt already, batting her long dark lashes and smiling at all who hovered close by. Serilinn adored her, naturally. Cinnamon spent a good deal of the time now in the chair in the bedroom.
Yet Serilinn did still sleep with her in the bed, she assured Greenjade. And changed her clothes each day.
Sméagol was having a time of it, Greenjade noted with mingled pity and amusement. Meeting his former adversary had been a considerable trial for him. He kept close to Radagast like a timid child to its mother in a crowd. The King treated him with kindly courtesy, saying never a word about past events to him, and the Queen was very nice to him also, but Sméagol carefully avoided meeting their eyes and said little when they spoke to him. He was edgy with Legolas also, for the Elf was less tactful than Aragorn, and sometimes stared hard at the small fellow, scrutinizingly. Greenjade wondered that Radagast did not speak to him about it. Yet Sméagol’s room was as comfortable as those of the others; when he complained that he needed a warmer blanket, one was brought to him, and his favorite foods were prepared for him, and he was allowed to sit in on the council meetings, although he did not put forth any ideas. He avoided the children, particularly Eldarion, who, like Legolas, was inclined to stare hard at him. Radagast assured him the little boy was only curious, since he had never seen any of Sméagol’s kind before.
The twins were mistrustful of Sméagol, and said little to him. Sometimes they muttered to each other behind his back, glancing his way. Greenjade wondered if the King had told them to keep an eye on Sméagol. Recalling the theft of Miss Carrie’s locket, he thought that might not be such a bad idea, at that.
Serilinn was getting on very well with Mikala and Ruan, not surprisingly. Greenjade remembered Cammie and Mattie back in Eriador. Mikala and Ruan were far more intelligent, although little more educated; simple working girls they were. Small, plumpish, not beautiful, yet pleasing to look at, with rosy cheeks and big brown eyes and sweet bright smiles. Serilinn said Mikala was betrothed, and her beloved was younger than she, just turned eighteen, and it would be three years before they could marry. Bergil was his name….
“I am so thankful to you,” Meleth said, making him jump halfway out of his shoes as she came up behind him where he was leaning on the rail, watching the others. “Oh, I am sorry, I did not mean to startle you.”
“It’s no matter,” he said laughing a little. “I knew you were about, but I did not hear you come up.”
“I know I said it before,” she said leaning on the rail also, “but I just feel so grateful that you are not upset about my adopting Serilinn. It is a great relief to know you are not angry about it. I truly am thankful to you for saving her. More than you will ever know. I fear you will tire of hearing me say it.”
She was wearing her hair pulled severely back from her face and fastened behind her head with a silver pin—a style that suited her perfectly, drawing attention to the exquisite planes of her cheekbones and forehead. And her eyes. Those eyes, those eyes….
And he realized he knew all about seduction, and next to nothing about courtship.
Whom could he ask? The King? Hmmm…it had taken him over sixty years to win his bride. The twins? Evidently they knew little more than he, seeing as how they were still unattached, despite their devastating looks. What was the difference? Perhaps he could figure it out for himself….
Seduction was selfish, and devious and dishonest. Courtship was unselfish, honest and open-hearted, he concluded. It was romantic and pure. Opposite sides of the same coin. Well, now. That wasn’t so hard.
“Your poem was lovely,” he found himself saying. “I did not know you wrote poetry. Well, Serilinn did sing some songs that she said you wrote, come to think of it. But…”
“I used to write a great deal of poetry,” she said. “But I do not know what happened to it. I suppose much of it was not very good. I shall have to write more, and keep it in a safe place this time.”
“I’ve written a bit myself,” he said, secretly thrilled that they had this in common…along with Serilinn and the fact that they had both come back from the dead. “Very little. But a bit.”
“Aye, Serilinn said you did,” she said with a little smile. “She said it was very beautiful and ‘mysterious’. Will you speak me some?”
“Mysterious?” he laughed a little. “Well…perhaps I’ll just have to make up something new.”
“You can do that? Compose on the spur of the moment?”
“I can but try,” he said. Looking away at the snow-capped, dark-firred mountains, since looking at her would more likely render him speechless, he spoke:
From blackest void, obsidian-hued, I ascended,
Borne up by hands I had sought to stain with my enmity, they raised me yet
Set upon greenness keen as hunger, frail as beauty, yet it hurt my feet as blades
And so I walked bleeding through hollow land and baleful glade
My head bowed so as not to be laid low by relentless daysky
Long I trod with naught before me but the promise of an ashy plain
And flaming peaks, and twisted trees with blasted blooms
Love trifled with me, then left me beached and bloodied
And so I went my way, one foot, then the other, strangers to my face
Then innocent beauty found me, and hope was mine once more
We rode together with upturned faces, filling ourselves with wholesome colors
The darkness trailing behind until it forgot to follow
I learned to fall in love with my body, to find what treasures lay
In limbs of wood, caves, feathers, plains, stables, stories, cradles, stones
Seas of grass and lofty ledges, mountain stairs, polished streets
Far removed from wave and tide and isle and ice
Land-locked, I stumbled and danced, and once more climbed the perilous way
That hangs suspended between the garden and the void
The point of no return…
He broke off, slightly appalled at how much he had revealed, and looked away from her. This is it, he thought. This is the part where she will tell me she cannot marry one not of her kind…that she is willing to be friends…that her heart is in the grave with the lover she met on the Other Side…. She had not mentioned him. Was Serilinn more important that he? The Queen had said few Elves survived the grief of losing a mate. Yet Meleth had survived.
He glanced at her quickly, and saw her looking at him with wide eyes…. Those eyes. It just isn’t possible, he thought. No one can be so lovely and be real…why should she want him? Better she should have someone like Elrohir, who was as beautiful for a male as she was for a female, and was of her kind, and had so much more going for him….
But what was it Elladan had said about the early bird? Greenjade was not familiar with the saying, but he could guess….
Yet courtship was unselfish…or was it?
And should he risk his heart again?
Too many questions.
And now she was speaking once more.
“That was wonderful, simply wonderful,” she was saying. “Shall we go and sit at the table there?”
“Why not, indeed?” he said smiling.
And there she spoke of the lover she had lost…over a hundred years ago. Well. A far cry from Nell, whose lover had been slain only six years previous. Her parents had died in that same war. Yes, she was related to the Elves of Lorien, although she had not grown up there. Her mother had been one of them. She had married one of the Sindarin, and Meleth had lived near Mirkwood. How had she come to know Duathris?
“Well, one day I came upon a child who was wandering in the woods and crying,” she said. “She was lost, of course. I asked her the usual questions: who were her parents, where did they live, and so on. She was very small, yet she managed to tell me her mother lived in a castle with a tower, and had disappeared somehow, so the child had gone out to find her, and had lost her way. I shall always regret that I did not simply take her home with me, but I did not do this. I told her I would help her find her way home and find her mother, if need be. We wandered for a day or two, asking questions of strangers, trying to find the way back. And just when I was thinking of giving up the search, we came upon a Dark-elf who was out gathering wild herbs and things of a dark nature. The child did not run to her, but simply said, ‘That is my mother. That is Duathris.’ It struck me as odd and sad that she would refer to her mother as such. I did not like the look of this lady, who was clad all in black, and had let her hair blow freely and darkly about, and it hung almost to her knees so I took it at first for a black veil. But she was wondrous beautiful, and strange and seductive in her manner, and she held me with her eyes, and said, ‘Serilinn, come hither,’ and the little one hesitated. And then she said, ‘Duathris, I want her.’ Meaning me, of course. And Duathris said, ‘Nay, silly one, we do not need her, why should we need her?’ And she laughed, long and loud and shrill, and the sound of it frightened me. And yet, I stood there, and I asked where the child’s father was. And Duathris laughed once more. I thought her mad, and asked her what she meant by disappearing and leaving her child to wander out alone, what sort of mother did so? Serilinn was shivering and weeping, and I gathered her close—for I loved her already—and said, ‘Has she a nurse?’ And Duathris said, ‘She had aught, but the foolish woman fled, saying that someone was trying to drink her blood—fancy that!’ And she laughed, and I asked her if I might become the child’s nurse. She looked at me as though I were daft, and I repeated my question. And she laughed again. I looked to her herb-basket, and wondered, not knowing that she was a practitioner of witchcraft, or I might have fled with the child then and there, but I knew not of such things. And so I went back to her castle with her, and stayed for many years.
“She did not bide there alone; there were others of the craft there, a coven it was called. And she tried to entice me into learning also, and she was most persuasive at times, but I held apart from her, wishing only to protect the little one. And she would have strange nocturnal visitors, which terrified me, yet I could think only of my lamb, and so I stayed, although I think they took my blood at times, and hers also. And I could swear I saw them take strange shapes and fly away into the night, yet they would always return in the daytime, and some slept far down below in the daytime. ‘Twas then I thought to flee, and take her with me. We would go to Valinor, the two of us, I told her. We discussed it often, and at length, but I could not discover how to escape. She locked the two of us into a tower prison, sending food up to us. I could not see a way to free us. At times I thought to throw the two of us out of the window, which was big enough, but so far down, we would have been killed. Yet I thought perhaps it was better than to be prisoners there, someday to become as the others….”
“She never mentioned a tower,” Greenjade said shuddering. He wondered how Serilinn had managed to stay as sane as she was. Meleth was the one to thank for that, he supposed. “And so Duathris killed you?”
“Aye, she took all my blood,” Meleth said just above a whisper. “And she and her lover, Gaergath, threw my body into a ditch and buried it deep, and then they took my lamb and fled. I know not why they fled. I think some folk had found out about them and meant to burn the castle. So I suppose it was well that she killed me, for my lamb would have been burnt with the rest of them. I think they guided your steps to their lair that night. You say that Morgoth spoke to you from a tree?”
“Aye, he did,” Greenjade said.
“Perhaps it was not Morgoth, but one of the good spirits,” she said. “Then again, the evil ones, while clever and wily when they must be, can be stupid also. Sometimes their wickedness turns upon them. And the deeds they attempt to perpetrate turn out to be for good after all. You saved my lamb, as she saved you. Perhaps it was planned, at that.”
“I do not like to recall that night,” he said. “And yet…”
“And you killed them all? Gaergath, and the rest?” Her eyes were fairly burning into his.
“I hope I did,” he said.
“I know not if there were others,” she said. “Greenjade…you little know what you accomplished. You give yourself far too little credit. You may have saved Middle-earth, for their numbers would have grown great, and a darkness would have spread over the land, perhaps greater than the Second Darkness that Sauron would have caused. Worse than the Plague which I do not remember, for I was born after it. You averted the worst catastrophe that may have happened. Your father is the Ringbearer, you say? You are indeed his son—whether he begot you or no!”
Her eyes were shimmering in the cloudy sunlight. And he could not take his away from hers.
And he found himself rising from his chair, and going to her and raising her from hers, and turned her face to his own, pressing his lips hard against hers.