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Journey out of Darkness
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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52
Fire on the Mountains

The house was built of stone plastered over and whitewashed and bolstered with timbers, with windows of real glass, shutters, a steep thatched roof, and an iron fence around the front. There were four bedrooms and a kitchen, a sitting-room, an outdoor privy in back, the stable had been enlarged, and the garden had not been harmed one whit. In fact, it had been expanded. Nearly the entire town of Elvea had been in on the project.

Greenjade would not soon forget the day that Radagast returned, as Greenjade, Elladan, Elrohir, Gimli, Sméagol, and Dringon all concealed themselves in trees and behind thickets, watching for his reaction. The Wizard drove slowly along in the wagon which was wanting repair now, along with a few men riding with him, and some alongside, up the road toward the house…then starting and staring at the others as if to say, Hold, we’ve come the wrong way! What house is that? Greenjade and his friends had all they could do to keep from snickering as Radagast and the others cast bewildered glances all around. They waited to see what he would do; then Nilde jumped down from the wagon and ran at the house, barking, and Sméagol popped out from behind a bush exclaiming in delight to see her again…

And Radagast stopped the wagon, dropping the reins and hopping down, going out to meet him, jabbing his staff into the earth with an indignant motion, calling to him, and Greenjade could not hold back his laughter any more, nor could Gimli crouching next to him, and the twins plopped casually out of the trees into which they had climbed.

“Hullo Radagast, fancy seeing you here!” Elrohir exclaimed. “How like you our new house? Pretty, what?”

“Vast improvement on that smoke-colored hut, yes?” Elladan said casually reaching up to untangle his hair from a limb that had snagged it. “Bloody eyesore, that. Not fit for an orc to live in. I can well understand why you didn’t wish to stay in it, and skipped off on the pretext of doing a good deed just so we’d take pity and build you a new house. Dratted clever, that was. I must remember it to use later sometime.”

The others came out of their hiding places, as Radagast stood utterly speechless, staring, trying to take it in that there really was a house before him and he was not in a dream.

“Well, drat it all, man, are you just going to stand there gawking, or are you going to come inside and have a look-see?” Elrohir said with feigned impatience.

“We didn’t tear down the hut,” Greenjade put in. “It’s out back of the house. We converted it into a tool-shed. You may not recognize it, since we whitewashed it also, but I assure you it’s there. The succulents are even in the roof-thatch still, in case of lightning.”

And they took the Wizard by the arms and steered him into the doorway.

The interior was painted a soft cream color, and it had a real stone floor, of grey granite, laid over in the front room with a thick rug a couple donated, woven in shades of brown and gold and black. A couple of women had made curtains for the windows, of new cloth, of woven gold and black threads, and Aragorn and Arwen sent over beautiful cushions embroidered in gold and white and brown and black, along with a tapestry showing a tree full of birds, which used to hang in the room Radagast had occupied during his stay at the palace.

Faramir and Eowyn had sent over some household items as well, some lamps and bowls and candleholders, and a hawk someone had found and stuffed. Greenjade had his doubts about the hawk, but decided to put it up over the fireplace anyway, just in case. He thought it looked rather splendid, himself. And there were some of the carved animals he had made over the years, to pass the time; these he set about the place.

He had made a very fine chair of carved walnut, with an eagle worked into the back, and clawlike feet on the front legs, all highly polished and sanded to perfection. There was a cabinet to match, with birds carved on the doors, and bronze handles, wrought by the local metal worker. He was currently working on a headboard for the Wizard’s bed, to be carved with an eagle also.

And there was a beautiful bronze lamp, made by the same metal worker, hanging from the ceiling in the front room.

And in the past two years, the house had grown even more beautiful and homelike. Goosedown mattresses were added, the stove tiled, stenciled designs painted on the doors. A shaded porch was built in back, with wicker chairs and potted rosebushes set about. There was no other house in all of Elvea like it.

Yet Greenjade had yet to hoist his flag.

He had grown to like the inhabitants here, particularly after the way they had all pitched in to help with the house. They were rugged, self-sufficient, tough, with a pioneer spirit--which was how most of them came to be here. They had come with a view toward taming a savage land and having a part in purging the place of its poison. Many were former soldiers who had been unable to adjust to civilian life after experiencing combat. And they had found solace here, comfort in the common purpose of restoring a sickened country to health and new life. Greenjade felt humbled in their company, yet privileged to be among them. In essence, this was what he had wanted all along, to live among people touched with greatness, who wished to live in the light and rise above the common, who were not content to take the well-traveled roads, who had stories worth telling, yet whose eyes were turned straight ahead.

Not that they were perfect, by any means. They had brought much with them, some drank too much, and there were often fights. They sang bawdy songs and told off-color jokes and loved rough sport and revelry. Yet they had vigor, they had color, richness, breadth, height, voice, and flavor, and Greenjade was seldom bored in their company. There were farmers, woodsmen, metal workers, stonecutters, dairymen, bakers, butchers, craftsmen of many sorts, miners, millers, huntsmen, and a few assorted dubious types who had no particular profession, yet who somehow managed to get by on their wits. These usually did not last long, soon finding out that if they did not pull their own weight, few were going to pull it for them.

“I feel a failure once more,” Radagast said, one morning about a month after returning from the orc colony. He and Greenjade and the others were in the sitting-room, in which a pleasant fire was burning in the stone fireplace. The whole aspect of the room was warm, comfortable and manly all at the same time. And the windows even had real glass…rough and thick, and it was hard to see out of them, but real glass was not easy to come by. “I did not make much headway with the orcs. My heart broke for them. There seemed so little, really, that I could do. They are so hideous, so loveless and hopeless. I do not believe they will tend the garden we planted. In order to do that, one must have hope, and what hope have they? Soon they will revert back to what they were before I came. But I cannot stay with them indefinitely.”

“You did what you could,” Elrohir said. “And you certainly stuck with it longer than any of the rest of us.”

“Aye, some of us did not even care to try it,” Elladan said. “You can give yourself credit for trying, at least.”

“I tried, but did I succeed?” Radagast said. “Sometimes I think it better if they were not immortal, and would just die out. Do not get any ideas from that,” he said looking sharply at Elladan.

“You’re no failure in our eyes,” Greenjade said. “You made of me what you see before you, and Sméagol too. And the entire town, for that matter. You made it grow out of ashes and dust and mud. But for you, this would be Mordor still.”

“Orcs are orcs,” Elrohir said, “and thus it ever shall be. You should stick with men, and sea-folk and hobbits sent back from the dead, and actual beasts. ‘Tis sad about the orcs, truly. But there is no use berating yourself for what cannot be helped.”

After a long moment, a slow smile appeared on Radagast’s face, and a soft glow began to emanate from him. His very clothing seemed brownly radiant.

“Aye, I belong with you,” he said. “This is my city, and these are my people. I can scarcely believe what length you all went to show your esteem. I still cannot take it in. You are right. I have succeeded more than I knew. This house is ample proof of that.”

“Well, don’t let it go to your head,” Elladan said in feigned alarm. Radagast laughed.

Then Elrohir perked up his head. “What is that sound?”

There was a sound coming from outside, which took Greenjade back to a time several years ago, when crossing a certain marsh…it was wings, without mistake. Large wings, and many. Nilde growled a little.

It suddenly occurred to Greenjade that he had seen very few birds in Calador, other than domestic fowl.

All ran to the windows and looked out, but could see little through the thick glass. The sound grew louder. Radagast went to the door, opened it, and stepped out on the front stoop, which was flanked by two stone eagles. The others soon followed.

The entire sky was dim with birds. Large ones, flying high overhead.

“Migrating geese,” Radagast said in soft wonder, “and yet, it is spring. They should be flying north, not south. Not just geese either—swans, ducks, loons. And smaller birds too—doves, I think. Thousands of them, it seems.”

“Wonderful,” Gimli said. “It will be raining bird muck, shortly.”

Greenjade snorted. The others just looked up in silent wonder. The bird-calls and cries grew ever louder. Nilde barked at the sky. Gimli shivered.

“It cannot be Saruman’s doing,” he said, “for the rascal is long dead, or so I hear. Well I remember the crebain he sent out our way, to spy on us. Can it be some mischief from abroad once more?”

“Nay,” Radagast said smiling. “These birds mean no mischief. They are coming to Calador.”

“But from where?” Greenjade asked.

“Remember that swan that was injured by the robbers on the road?” Radagast said. “How Serilinn stitched her up?”

“As if I could forget that,” Greenjade said. “So…she brought those birds out here?”

“Seems to me every bird in Middle-earth is up there,” Gimli said, drawing back into the house, where Sméagol crouched fearfully. “Do we need so many?”

“Perhaps you summoned them here?” Elrohir said to Radagast.

The Wizard merely smiled.

The coming of the birds caused much excitement in Elvea, of course, and a good deal of consternation also. However, they did not remain much in the town, but spread out over Calador, nesting in the mountains and forests. A good many did visit Radagast’s garden—finches, swallows, sparrows, larks, and thrushes of different varieties--and some took up in his trees. It made him very happy; he would go about looking up at them, sometimes summoning them to perch on his hand or shoulders. Getting used to their chirping and warbling and twittering took some doing for Greenjade, but he did eventually. Working out in the fields, he would hear bobolinks and meadowlarks and quail; hunting in the forest, he heard the silver-gold call of the woodthrush. Sitting on the porch in the evening, he heard nightingales, whippoorwills and owls, mornings, the merry notes of finches and robins, and in the afternoon, the chatter of many birds in the big trees. He would be glad of it because it all seemed to be taking Radagast’s mind off the orcs. Yet sad, for somehow it made him long for Meleth and Serilinn. They spoke much of their excitement about the birds in their letters.

About three weeks after the birds came, Radagast came in looking much agitated.

“The orcs have gone,” he said. Everyone was on the porch, resting from the long day’s work. “All of them. I went there to bring them their supplies and see how they were coming along. The colony has been deserted.”

“You don’t say!” Gimli exclaimed. “Where could they have gone?”

“All is overgrown with weeds, but not such big ones,” Radagast said. “So they have not been gone so long. Dringon and I went about looking, and found their tracks. They had been partially obliterated by rain, but still we could see they appeared agitated and chaotic, and we followed them for some distance. We found the remains of a couple of orcs that had apparently been trampled to death….”

“The birds frightened them off?” Elrohir suggested.

“That was my first thought,” the Wizard said, sitting himself between the Elves on the wide bench overlooking the garden. “The tracks went in several directions—save for west. They have fled into the mountains, most likely.”

“Do you suppose they have left Calador?” Elladan asked hopefully.

“If they have gone into the east,” Radagast said, “they will likely not get far.”

“You don’t suppose they will be coming back?” Greenjade asked.

“If they were coming back, surely they would have done so by now,” Radagast said. “My guess is that they have hidden themselves in the Ered Lithui. I have not been there, so I do not know how it is, and neither does anyone else I know.”

“The Mountains of Ash,” Elladan said. “They are downwind of Mount Doom, and likely collect much of the ash fallout. Sounds most enjoyable.”

“Aye,” Elrohir said. “Unless there are mountain streams there, which I much doubt, they are like to die of thirst. Once I thought I would have liked naught better. But now I feel no joy to think of them enduring such a painful demise.”

“Orcses are not coming back?” Sméagol said.

“Nay, Sméagol,” Radagast said, a little sadly it seemed, “they are not coming back.”

“Wish the birds had showed up that much sooner,” Elladan said. “We might have been spared a whole war. And Nana would not have sailed...at least, not until nine years ago.”

“So...when will the celebration be?” Gimli asked, only half serious.

“I am not much up to any celebration,” Radagast said. “I scarcely rejoice to know my year’s project was all for naught.”

“It was no such thing,” Greenjade said. “You’ve told me yourself that no deed that is for the good of others is ever wasted. Do you not believe it any more?”

“And you got yourself a new house out of it,” Elladan said clapping the Wizard’s shoulder. “You did well, Istari. More than you’ll ever know.”

“Aye, you have,” Elrohir said. “I am finally beginning to experience a lightening of my burden. I have been feeling it recede for some time now. And it has been much your doing.”

“Nay, Elrohir, it has been your own doing…and that of Eru,” Radagast said, and a trace of a smile flickered over his face. “I am much pleased to hear it. And if indeed I have had any part of it, I will not count myself a failure entirely, and will rejoice for you, at least.”

“Well then,” Elladan said, “shall we break out the wine? Oh, that’s right, we haven’t any. And the ale at The Belching Bridegroom is rather wretched stuff. Tastes like skunk piss…not that I ever drank such.”

Smeagol cooked up a rare feast. He had a good side of beef hanging up in the springhouse. Radagast took his usual bread and cheese, until Greenjade trotted out a jar of blackberry jam he had been saving for a surprise. And the following morning Smeagol made some delectable flatcakes, which cheered the Wizard immensely. No one spoke of the orcs.

~*~*~

“She finishes school this year, what?” Radagast’s voice startled Greenjade, who looked up blankly from Serilinn's letter as the Wizard appeared on the porch.

“Aye, she does,” Greenjade said, turning to look thoughtfully at his friend and mentor. “Seems hard to believe, what? Are you coming with me to see her graduate?”

“Would not miss it for the world,” Radagast said with twinkling eyes. “And I should hope we shall be bringing her back with us to stay.”

“Nay, only to visit,” Greenjade said. “We haven’t a place for her and Meleth to stay. My rooms above my shop are well enough for myself, but I would wish something far finer for my wife and child.”

“My house is their house,” Radagast said. “You know there is a room not being used, although you might bide in it if you wished.”

“Well, but they are Elves, remember,” Greenjade said uneasily. “These are not their kind of folks.”

“Are they not?” Radagast said with a chuckle.

“There are no Elves here, save for the twins,” Greenjade said, “even if Legolas does see fit to show himself from time to time. But his heart most certainly is not here.”

“And where is your own?” Radagast asked kindly.

“Here,” Greenjade said. “I would have Meleth and Serilinn with me, certainly. But I at least have the privilege of being with them for four months out of the year. One for each season. It is a sweet comfort to me to know they are waiting for me, when my time is done here and I can go to them. And to know I am protecting them, and they live in beautiful surroundings where they are doing what they love to do. I feel I am making it up to them for what they went through, and that is a great satisfaction to me. So yes, I am happy here, and my heart is in this place where I am accomplishing things. What could I accomplish in Ithilien? I would perhaps knock out a few nice pieces of furniture and build a few stables, or some such, there. But I would not be making much difference.”

“So why not be with them the entire year?” Radagast asked. “You built this house. Why not build them one as well? They can stay here until it is done.”

“I do not think the entire town would participate if it were only for me and my family,” Greenjade said. “You are our leader, healer, gardener, priest, counselor, savior, teacher, comforter, storyteller, and friend. I am nobody, only Greenjade the carpenter. It would take years to build the house on my own, even if I could afford it. If I were but a war hero of some sort, perhaps it would be different. And what of Meleth and Serilinn? The people of Meleth’s village adore her. She is their queen. She is teacher, midwife, nurse, counselor, singer, poet, friend, and a figure of beauty and light. And Serilinn? There are no children here fit for her to associate with. And very few women. We need to get more women here somehow. I think the men are getting restless sometimes, and need female company, and the Gondorian sisters just aren’t enough any more. But how to get them here?”

“Perhaps if Meleth came, others would follow,” Radagast said. “What is there for women out here?”

“Men,” Greenjade said, “actual men, not a pack of preening dandies gracing a court and warbling ditties on the beauties of their wench of the day. Or drones going back and forth all day, eating, working, begetting, and sleeping without a care for what goes on in the world about them. Men who know how to work, and also how to enjoy, and to care and look ahead and do what they can to better themselves and help others as well. Men who want wives, not merely seeking to put out the fire in their trousers. Wives and families. It’s what we need here. Isn't that what life is about, when one comes down to it? Families.”

“This from a man who refuses to bring his own family here,” Radagast said pointing the stem of his pipe toward Greenjade. “What makes you think others would wish to have families here, when you would not? I would like to see women come here as much as you, and for them to have families, and for Calador to grow as a nation. I am curious to know how you reconcile your reluctance to bring your own family here with your eagerness to see others have families.”

Greenjade chuckled a little, shaking his head. “Well,” he said, “I suppose that my family is my own concern, and the families of others are the concern of those others. If they don’t wish to have them, then they may forego such. But I would see this nation grow and flourish. It is doing well, but it needs that transforming element.”

“I would most certainly like to see Serilinn and Meleth again,” Radagast said.

“You will, when you come with me to see Serilinn’s commencement,” Greenjade said.

“That I will do,” said the Wizard. “But you would do well to bring them here when we return.”

“I do not think I could do it to Serilinn,” Greenjade fretted. “And there are so many rough men, and Meleth is so beautiful. I doubt I’d have a moment free of anxiety with her here amongst them. Not to mention the wild beasts. The orcs may be gone, but there are still wolves, bears, poisonous snakes…not to mention the lion that killed those sheep last year. Aye, we hunted her down and killed her, but there may be more where she came from.”

“And yet you would bring women here.”

“Aye, that I would,” Greenjade laughed. “This argument could go on all night.”

“I agree that this settlement needs women,” Radagast said. “Perhaps we should call a town meeting, and discuss it among the men. Perhaps some of them have sisters, cousins, friends or relations of their wives, who might come.”

“I was going to suggest that very thing,” Greenjade said.

“We will go see Serilinn graduate,” Radagast said. “You, I, Smeagol, the twins, Gimli--if he should wish to come. And we will bring her and Meleth back with us...to stay.”

“You are going to work on me,” Greenjade smiled, “wearing down my will. But what of Serilinn's pretty room? She loves it so.”

“She shall have one just as pretty here.”

“Meleth...she likes to sit outside each morning to take her tea and watch the sun come up, in her garden.”

“The same sun comes up here. And we've a very nice garden, I should say.”

“And they love to go to Minas Tirith, and see all the friends they have made there, the doings, the theater, the music, the books, the temple. We've naught of that sort here.”

“You can go there from time to time. You've still your respites.”

“And Serilinn's friends?”

“There have been seven babes born here in the past four years. She loves little ones, does she not?”

“She speaks a trifle sadly of her friends now,” Greenjade said glancing at the letter. “She is so attached to them, and yet they are all growing up, and gradually leaving her behind. They will be women while she is yet a little lass, and will likely forget her when they've families of their own. They'll regard her as a trifle freakish, perhaps. Or look back upon her as a sweet memory, but little more than that.”

“So you'll bring her here to stay?” Radagast said smiling more broadly. “To the land she named herself? And had such plans for building?”

“Keep going, old fellow,” Greenjade smiled also.

Suddenly they were interrupted by the sounds of shouts, issuing from up the road.

“More birds?” Greenjade said. Radagast sprang to his feet, absently dumping the ashes from his pipe upon the ground. They went around the house to see where the commotion was. The twins came galloping up on their horses in a state of great agitation.

“We saw the beacon,” Elrohir said breathlessly, or perhaps it was Elladan; Greenjade could not tell from this distance, in the dusk, and they were dressed alike. He recalled that the King had recently had beacons set atop the mountains between Calador and Ithilien, like the ones between Gondor and Rohan.

And the twins had seen one lit? That could only mean one thing. They were at war.

“So much for bringing women here,” Radagast said almost under his breath.



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