They were interrupted by a squeak, and turned to see Serilinn at the top of the steps, holding little Lúthien balanced on her hip, a trifle gingerly. Greenjade looked to her, then to Meleth, whose cheeks were bright pink now, and back to Serilinn.
And he smiled. Little Lúthien smiled also, and waved to them, in the way she had, with her little fingers pointing toward herself.
“You were kissing her!” Serilinn exclaimed in awe and delight. “So that is how it looks! I have often wondered. Will you marry her?”
Greenjade laughed, startled at hearing such a joyous sound issuing from himself.
“Well,” he said, “if she will have me. But--”
“Oh, wait,” Serilinn cried, “do not propose just yet! Lúthien is wet. Please wait until I have changed her nappy, so I can see. I must change myself also, for there’s a spot on my dress now.”
And she turned and dashed into the building, Greenjade and Meleth laughing a little behind her. Then they stood together, holding each other by the hands, not speaking, just looking into each other’s eyes.
Then suddenly she released his hands, and sat down at the table once more, looking almost despondent.
“What is it, my love?” he cried, dropping to one knee beside her. Even as distressed as he felt, he could scarcely help but think how sweet the words “my love” tasted in his mouth now. But something was wrong…wasn’t it always the case?
“I have not told you all,” she said in a tremulous voice. “And I would not deceive you. You see…in the castle…”
“Yes? What is it?” He felt slightly sick, having already some idea of what she was about to reveal.
“I am not a maiden,” she said. “Some of the males in her coven—for males there were—they used me for their own pleasure—always against my will, but I had to give in to them, for they would have harmed her also, had I not. Even some of the females put their hands on me. I did it only to protect my lamb. Duathris sometimes beat her with stinging-nettles, or locked her into a dark closet, and I threatened to kill her if she abused that child any further. And so she said I would have to succumb to the others in order to…are you all right, Greenjade?”
He had to sit down; his head was spinning and he felt he would vomit in another moment. He had not let himself think about what horrors she had had to endure in that place.
Small wonder Serilinn had said so little of her life there.
“And then…Gaergath took me,” Meleth continued just above a whisper, lest Serilinn come upon them and hear, Greenjade supposed. “And at one point, I told him I only allowed it in order to protect my lamb—which was very foolish of me, but I had had all I could take, and he had taunted me—and he laughed and laughed, saying it was never necessary; he would not have allowed any of them to touch her. And I got away from him somehow, and seized a candle holder and hit him as hard as I could with it. It only made him reel a bit, then he looked at me in shock, and I thought he would kill me then, and I was terrified, for what would my lamb do without me? And then he laughed, and said I was far more beautiful and exciting than Duathris, and he looked forward to more ‘time with me’ as he put it. And Duathris must have heard it, for after that she took to locking us in the tower. And began to regard me as a threat, I suppose, for not long after, that was when she killed me.
“When I was in the Halls, I was promised healing in mind and body. And I asked why such evil was permitted. And the Lord Namo said I should be rewarded and healed. And I told him all I wanted was to have my lamb back with me, and I was almost sorry they did not kill her also. And he gave me to be healed by the healer Estë. I was purified, but now I have been sent back, I do not feel I should hide aught from you. Somehow you would know something was amiss. And…”
“My poor dearest dear,” he said, overwhelmed with awe at such selflessness. “I do not deserve you.”
“You deserve better,” she said, “but—“
“Better?” He sat back stunned. “I will never be good enough for you. I cannot conceive of such love of which you have told me. But why did they take so long to send you back?”
“I do not know. It did not seem at all long to me. I suppose there was a purpose. Perhaps they meant for you to find Gaergath and to be his undoing. And you did kill Duathris that night?”
“Aye, but with help from Serilinn. She it was threw the silver at her, when she was about to take me, and stopped her. Then I pushed her into the fire. Strange that Serilinn should have mourned her. I have ever wondered about that.”
“The tie between a parent and its child is one of great mystery,” Meleth said softly. “Mine were kind to me always, so I can scarcely conceive of the ability to love a parent who is abusive or neglectful, or both, as Duathris was. Still, it happens, and Serilinn is not the only instance of such; I have seen it many times, and can but wonder. I would see Duathris carelessly brush Serilinn’s hair and pull it, then scold her for letting it get tangled. So I took to brushing it for her, and the child would weep, as she refused to do with Duathris, and say she wished I might teach her mother to brush her hair properly. I suppose Duathris’ mother must have been cruel also—that is how it usually happens, although one sees it very rarely among Elfkind. But I cannot excuse her behavior even on that account; I can only try to understand it, so that I do not become consumed with bitterness to think of her. Ah, here she comes.”
Serilinn appeared wearing her gold dress, her hair brushed neatly under a gold net Arwen had given her, and she held two golden roses in her free hand.
“Is this all right?” she asked. “Or would the white one be better? Or perhaps…”
“It is fine,” Greenjade smiled at her woodenly. Little Lúthien beamed as if she knew what was going on.
“May I tell the others? They are likely wondering what is keeping me.”
“Nay, not yet,” he said. “Take her back to them, then you may come here. We don’t want a crowd.”
“Nana Meleth, you are weeping,” Serilinn said in alarm.
“It is for joy, my lamb,” Meleth said brushing away the tears and trying to put on a smile for her, and then to Greenjade’s great relief, succeeding. He had to blink back tears from his own eyes.
“Take the little one to them, love,” he said, to give himself time to recover. Serilinn smiled.
“Is she not darling?” she said, caressing Lúthien’s soft cheek with a fingertip and giving her a kiss. “I hope I shall have a little sister like this someday.”
And then she took the child back to Mikala and Ruan, who gaped at the sight of her golden dress. Greenjade could see the two little boys running back and forth through the garden as Serilinn told the girls whatever it was she was telling them, then turned and came running back up the steps to the terrace.
“I forgot to give you these,” she said handing Greenjade the roses.
“I’ve no betrothal ring,” he fretted, taking them without actually looking at them. “This all came about…rather suddenly. Truly, I am not even sure how these things are done.”
He paused, remembering Elladan’s rather precipitous proposal to Serilinn, but thinking to himself that was not exactly the usual procedure. Then he suddenly felt stunned, picturing Duathris before him, holding a stinging-nettle and flailing at Serilinn with it.
“Perhaps you are not yet ready?” Meleth said very softly. “We can wait.”
Serilinn looked stricken. “You are not going to propose now?”
“It is a bit sudden,” Meleth said. “We have known each other but two weeks. There is much we do not know about each other yet.”
“But you are in love?” Serilinn persisted, pleadingly.
“I am most certainly,” Greenjade said, gazing at Meleth as if he would never look away from her again. “But if you do not feel the same, my lady, or need more time…I will give you all the time you need.”
She stood looking at him with soft eyes, for a seemingly endless moment. Then said, “Thank you, my lord,” with a little curtsey and a gentle smile. “But I need no more time. My answer is Yes.”
Greenjade steeled himself for the Wizard’s reaction, telling himself that no matter what the old fellow felt about it, he was going to marry Meleth, and all the Powers put together could not stop him. Yet he quivered inside, for he dreaded Radagast’s disfavor. He had badly wanted to please him, and and here he would fail once more. Well, nothing for it. He agonized much of the evening, waiting for the right moment, anticipating the words the Wizard would say, and his own, trying to think of the right thing to mollify him, muttering to himself.
“Out with it, my lad,” he heard Radagast say, and he started and jumped around guiltily like a little boy caught stealing sweets. The Wizard stood in the doorway to the bathing-room. Greenjade had not heard him go in. He had forgotten that wizards must use the privy also.
Radagast stepped coolly into Greenjade’s room and sat on a chair, unmindful of the dressing-gown laid over the back. “So. What’s on your mind, Greenjade? Is it what I think?”
“Well,” Greenjade said, trying to match the Wizard’s composure, and positively trembling inside, “perhaps so. What is it you think?”
“I think you know what I think,” Radagast said, folding his arms in imitation of Greenjade, who had not realized he was folding his own until then. “So. Are you going to set me right, or are you going to keep pacing and muttering and tugging at your hair, waiting for the right moment, and rehearsing to yourself over and over as to what you’re going to say to persuade me that you’re going to do this, and all the Valar cannot stop you?”
Greenjade gawked at him, and then, to his immense surprise and relief, he laughed aloud, and relaxed his arms.
“I think you have it exactly right,” he said sitting on the edge of his bed. “I have betrothed myself to a lady who is so far above me, it would take a year to climb even halfway to her level, and yet, she has accepted me. That is something I will never be able to take in, how such a lovely being could bind herself to such as I. Yet she has done so, and I to her. We were saving it to announce at Yule, but….”
“That is wonderful,” Radagast said, and there was not the slightest hint of sarcasm in his tone. Greenjade gawked once more, throwing dignity to the winds. “She is a most beautiful lady, inside as well as out, and I cannot think of any I would recommend more highly. You need not fret about not being good enough; she will bring out all the best you can be, if you but allow it, and I am certain you will. I simply could not be more proud of you if you were my own son, Greenjade. Of that I am certain.”
I am dreaming, thought Greenjade. This is surely not happening. The room seemed to be spinning.
“You…you truly have no objection?” he said. “I thought…”
“Not in the slightest. And I am delighted to see you truly happy at last. I think you have earned it, and will continue to earn it in years to come. I am only sorry that the two of you must live apart for some time; I wish it could be otherwise. But…”
“I know,” Greenjade said softly. “So do I. But at least I have something to motivate me now…far more than the thought of Garland’s release.” He laughed a little. “I wonder just how long it will last between her and that Elf.”
“I wonder she has not come to thank you,” the Wizard said. “I should think she would do that much.”
“You don’t know Garland,” Greenjade chuckled. “It’s no matter, though; I am not exactly perishing for the sight of her. I’m thankful to her for not showing herself, and for choosing another, and leaving me to pursue my own bliss. And great bliss it is. I only thought I was in love before. It frightens me at times…knowing it could all be swept away at a moment’s notice. Happiness and I have never exactly been the best of friends. But we are getting better and better acquainted. I ask of you not to tell anyone just yet. We plan to announce our betrothal at Yule. Hopefully, by then we will have set a date for the wedding. We wish to have it in the temple. Only Serilinn knows of it now, and we have sworn her to secrecy. I only hope she can keep secrets.”
Yet as the servants saw the lovers walking through the streets, with eyes only for each other, stealing away into various nooks to share a kiss and private exchanges of sweet nothings, as Greenjade sent up little gifts to the room above his, as Serilinn skipped and danced for joy everywhere she went, and fired questions that were surely overheard, as Meleth made delicate inquiries of the Queen as to dress-patterns, and where flowers could be gotten this time of year…and when the day of Yuletide arrived and the announcement was made in the Temple, and the wedding date set for six months from then, certain people feigned surprise, and some even managed to do it well.
And Serilinn and Mikala and Ruan hung garlands of holly on the Monument in the Place of the Fountain, and even presumed to break off branches of the Tree to lay before the two figures, then lit the tiny lamp that stood in the little niche in the marble block.
“It’s snowing,” Ruan noted as the three girls stood looking at their work. And the two figures seemed to smile, unmindful of the thick fuzzy flakes floating down upon them.
There was a great celebration in the main hall of the Palace, with loads of food and drink, and a huge log burning in the fireplace which was trimmed with garlands of holly and ivy and evergreen boughs. Candles stood everywhere, until the Queen expressed her fear that someone would knock one over. Musicians played tunes of almost hysterical gaiety, and some that were gently lilting. Two with fiddles, a large one and a small one, some with tambourines, one with bagpipes, one with a drum, and three with flutes of various sizes, and another with a dulcimer, and another with a small harp. Some sang songs that just bordered on being naughty. Delicious smells of cake and rum punch and pastries and roast pig and spices and evergreen and bay leaves and burning wood pervaded the large room.
At one point in all the merriment, a voice suddenly boomed out above the music, so that it stopped, and there in the doorway stood a strange figure in a scarlet robe and a peaked red hat, a pelt of white fur laid across its shoulders along with a chain on which hung several small golden bells. It wore a gold mask and had long white hair and beard, and carried a bag slung over its back. By its side was a large he-goat with more bells hanging all over it, and flowers and holly-sprigs stuck to his horns, and a large wreath of fir-boughs and cones and red berries about its neck. A small figure trailed in behind, dressed all in black, with a scary-looking black mask over its face and a black rag tied about its head. It also carried a bag which dragged on the floor behind it.
“OHO!” the large bearded figured shouted over the murmurs of the crowd. “What’s this I see? A throng making merry, upon me dinglerry! And what be cause of this joy, I ask—or would answer require too great a task? Upon this holy eve of Yule, why dance and caper like a fool? Sobriety, propriety, and most worthy piety—these be a virtue that cannot hurt you! Heed me words, kindly folk—lest your revelry go up in smoke!”
Greenjade raised his eyebrows to Meleth, who was ravishing in a gown of palest ice blue embroidered with silver, a wreath of red berries and white roses on her hair, which streamed loose and rippling all down her back and shoulders, which were bare above the low neckline of her bodice, and her white forearms emerged from beneath fine snowy lace. But she seemed as mystified as he.
Some of the people laughed, while others appeared puzzled and anxious. Greenjade looked to the King, but he seemed as baffled as the rest, as was the Queen, who was all in white, with a gemmed net in her hair. He tried to pick Serilinn out of the crowd, and saw her standing with the twins. She wore her red velvet, her hair pulled back and interwoven with red and gold ribbons and beads, while the brothers were in white trimmed with silver, wreaths of holly on their heads—Greenjade had to wonder whose idea that was. They did not seem to care if they looked ridiculous, and he laughed a little…fondly. Very fondly.
The bearded and masked figure was now going about the room and seemed to be looking for someone, his bells jingling as he stumped along.
“So,” he boomed, “who’s been good, and who’s been bad? I’ve presents for some that will make them glad—and some forsooth which may make them sad! Must I keep me goodies for meself? Or leave ‘em sittin’ upon a shelf? Ye’ll see naught so pretty, in this fair city! Come one, come all, come big, come small…ah there, me lad, be not afeard! There’s nary goblins hid in me beard! Here’s somethin’ to make yer little heart glad! Take care not to drop it, me lad!”
Eldarion had sidled up to the bearded figure, who stooped down and opened his bag and took a tiny paper sack from it, and gave it to the little Prince, who immediately yanked it open. Candies and marbles came flying out, landing on the floor, and he scrambled with a cry to pick them up, amid laughter and cheers. Another boy came, then a girl, then more and more children, and the little black figure, who had uncommonly large feet, danced throughout the room flinging sparkly stuff about, while the goat wandered over to a garland of evergreen boughs that had fallen to the floor and began to eat it, unnoticed save by a tiny finch that flew over and settled upon its left horn, scolding wildly. The children squealed and shouted, waving their gifts, dancing and skipping and twirling.
“Some of those wooden playthings look strangely familiar,” Meleth said with dancing eyes. Greenjade smiled with elaborate innocence. “As well as those feather butterflies the little lasses are holding.”
“I wonder where Radagast and Sméagol are keeping themselves,” Greenjade said glancing toward the hulking bearded figure and the prancing black one. “Perhaps they fell asleep and forgot all about the festivities?”
“Very likely,” Meleth said. “Perhaps we should awake them, and bring them here? ‘Tis sad they should miss out on such cheer. Yet mayhap they hold such frivolous doings in deepest scorn. Best to let them sleep unto the morn.”
“Indeed, my lady,” Greenjade said. “Best we not incur their virtuous wrath. Why tempt them onto such a primrose path? To entice them thusly would be most wrong, to lure them to such a wayward throng.”
“Of course, my lord,” Meleth giggled. “I could not love thee with such adoration, if thou leadest thy friends into such degradation.”
“Most definitely,” Greenjade said softly, barely resisting the urge to trace the shape of her lips with his fingertip.
Serilinn came running up, crying, “Look at this!” She held a round ivory trinket-box with butterfly patterns carved intricately on the lid, the sides worked in gold and polished moonstones. Inside was a delicate golden key, a little string of pearls, and a silver bracelet with a carved red coral rosebud set in it. And a lovely little netted bead purse with several gold coins in it.
“Drat those twins,” Greenjade said with a scowl. “What business had Elladan to give you such a costly gift without my leave?”
Serilinn giggled uproariously. “Now Ada Greenjade, I would know your work if I saw it in…in the bottom of the sea!” she said.
And he laughed for pure joy, and so did Meleth, and they all embraced at once.
“It’s carved from a mumak tusk, I believe,” Meleth said. Greenjade grinned.
“Legolas gave it to me,” he said. He could see the Elf across the room, watching and smiling hugely. “That reminds me,” he said, taking another beaded purse from his pocket and handing it to Meleth. “It was a very big tusk,” he said with a wink.
Inside the purse was a necklace of ivory beads interspersed with crystal, with a carved pendant shaped as a swan in flight, the wings intricately wrought and polished and worked in silver.
“It is the most beautiful gift I have ever received,” she exclaimed as she held it up for all to see. “No…it isn’t, quite,” she amended, smiling at Serilinn.
Greenjade fastened it about her neck, then turned her to look.
“Perfect,” he said, yet he was not looking at the necklace.
“And I’ve something for you,” she said with a mischievous smile. She flurried off to an adjoining room, and returned with something wrapped in white cloth. He took it and removed the covering, and found a large piece of cloth rolled up within. Puzzled, he shook it out, revealing a large banner with a spread eagle on it against a field of sky blue. The eagle clutched a scepter in one claw and a branch in the other, and the word CALADOR was embroidered below it in beautiful gold letters.
“OUR FLAG!” Serilinn screamed. Everyone gasped. “Ohhhhh!!!”
Greenjade held it up, rendered positively speechless. A lump formed in his throat and his hands trembled.
“For the future king of the new nation,” Meleth said very softly. He still could not speak, but could only stare at the flag, fearing to burst into tears before the entire city. The King and Queen had gathered closer, along with the three Elves, and others. “The Queen helped me to make it. It was a piece of work, trying to keep it under wraps until the time was right, but I can see we have succeeded.”
Then there was another commotion, coming from the entrance of the Palace.
The King nodded to his page, who flurried toward the doorway, and soon returned with a man and a boy who came in their winter wraps, flakes of snow clinging to them. Servants took the wraps from them, and soon Greenjade could plainly see that the two were father and son. He heard a cry from another part of the room, and saw Mikala making her way through the crowd toward the pair, as the King did likewise. The lad, who appeared in his late teens, broke away from his father and went to the girl and they embraced.
“How wonderful to see you, Beregond!” Aragorn said as he hugged the man. “This is a most unexpected delight. Have you happy tidings from Ithilien? For I can see by your face that you have. So…what news?”
And Beregond grinned back with a radiance rivaling the candles all about.
“Little Elboron has a baby sister…and the mother is doing fine,” he said, choking up a little.