“Serilinn’s graduation is but a month away,” Greenjade fretted as they rode toward Minas Tirith. “And now I shall have to miss it.”
“Perhaps the war will be over before then,” Elladan said, although he did not sound hopeful. “There was an uprising from the South some years back, and it was put down in two weeks.”
“I would not count on it,” Elrohir said gloomily, running his fingers through his horse’s mane. “The numbers of the Easterlings are far greater than those of Harad. And it's my guess they are allied once more.”
“We should never have torn down the Black Gate,” Gimli fumed, where he rode behind Legolas. “A fine thing! But for it, they may never be able to enter. The mountains are too dense, and likely they do not know of the Pass. Now they can just come prancing merrily through and take whatever they like, just like that, and our guards don’t stand a chance! And here I am with my bad leg, of no use to anyone but as a mere lowly woodcutter! Well, I shall summon my kin. They may be of some help. Easterlings—hmpf! Greedy bastards, with that fancy gold dragon armor of theirs, and their gemmy swords, and their bronze halberds and shields, and all the rest of it. A fine thing! Why don’t they stay in their own land, and leave ours to us?”
“I have wondered much the same,” Legolas said. “But they were ever warlike. Something drives them on. They’ve still much of Sauron in them. They would press ever westward, and take over all of Middle-earth. We all sprang from the East, you know. And moved ever westward. I would venture to say the desire to move into the West is in them also, in a strange and corrupted way. Theirs is a desert land, a hot land, a thirsty land. No life, save that which can grow in the burning sand, which blinds their eyes by day, and is cold in the night. They seek the sun, and the horizon…and somehow, the darkness. They chase the darkness, moving ever westward.”
“There was precious little life in Mordor when we undertook it,” Gimli pointed out. “If we could make it blossom as a rose, why can they not do the same?”
“Something tells me that this war will be no mere uprising,” Radagast said softly. “And now that we no longer have Gandalf, I feel I should go, although I am a pacifist. I feel I ought not leave the land to be overrun with Easterlings. I wonder whatever happened to the Blue Wizards. They went into the east many years ago, and I have not seen them in over a thousand years. I wonder if they might have become corrupt, and could be behind this business with the Easterlings, just as Saruman was in Isengard. Saruman hinted to me once that they had been much interested in magical doings…not of a good sort.”
“Nay, you must not go with us, Radagast,” Greenjade said. “You are needed back home. What would Elvea be without you? What would Calador be? You must stay, and hold down the fort there. You are the very heart of it.”
“I second that, and third it on behalf of my brother,” Elladan said. Elrohir nodded.
They stopped along the way to fetch Meleth, who said she would go as a nurse. Serilinn would remain with Faramir and Eowyn, she said. It would be the safest place for her. Kaerwyn would go with her, so she would have a friend for company and not be limited to playing with little children all the time.
“But I must see her graduate before I go,” Meleth said, glancing down at Pippin, who trotted along between their horses, glancing at Nilde, who stayed close to her master, from time to time. Greenjade nodded his agreement, darkly looking back over his shoulder as if to see if the Easterlings had yet arrived.
“Go home, all of you, and return to your families,” King Elessar said in his counsel-chamber. “We have an army, and a powerful one it is. We will not need you, save for my brothers here. Elladan and Elrohir, I think you two have seen enough of battle to last you for all time, and so I wish you to join the Medical Corps instead.”
“What army is this, Sire?” Gimli exclaimed clenching his fists on his knees. Aragorn calmly lit his pipe and smiled at the dwarf. “Do not keep us in such suspense! Tell me it is not...can it be...the Army of the Dead?”
“Nay, these are very much living,” the King said.
“Why do the Easterlings want Calador?” Greenjade said. “We are the ones who worked our arses off to make it grow and flourish and produce, while they sat back in Rhûn doing whatever it is they do over there, and now they see fit to march in and take it from us? I should like to see them do it!”
He was only vaguely aware of how much like Gimli he sounded.
“Sauron promised them a portion of it,” Aragorn explained, “and it seems they wish to claim it. It is the mines they really want. Even though Rhûn is a land of mines, and a wealthy one. Perhaps their mines are becoming depleted.”
“Pah!” Gimli snorted. “Or perhaps they dug up a balrog!”
“So what is this army?” Elrohir asked.
“I was going to ask that,” Elladan said as Ruan came to fill his glass. He smiled up at her, making her blush.
“It is an Elf army,” Aragorn said calmly. “And Eomer and I shall lead it. Radagast, I would ask you to join the Medical Corps also, but I dare say you are needed back in Calador at the moment. They have no other healer so experienced and skillful as yourself.”
“What Elf army is this?” Legolas asked. “No one spoke to me of any Elf army. There are not enough Elves left in Ithilien and Mirkwood put together to defeat the Easterlings. Not quite two hundred, all told.”
“It is not those Elves,” Aragorn said thoughtfully watching the small cloud of fragrant smoke that drifted from his pipe of carved ivory. In fact, Greenjade had made that pipe for him as a Yule gift some years ago. “Trust me. Do not ask too many questions, but believe me when I say this army will put down the uprising in no time at all. I shall ride out tomorrow with Eomer, who is on his way over. Elladan and Elrohir, you shall enlist in the morning. The rest of you shall go back about your business.”
“So why did you light the Beacon, if we are not needed?” Greenjade asked.
“Because,” the King said with a little mysterious smile, “when I did so, the Elven Army had not presented itself to me yet. It did so but two days ago. Shall I show you?”
“Please do,” Radagast said. “My curiosity is eating me alive.”
The King rose, and led everyone out of the chamber and down the hall, out into the courtyard to the Embrasure, where he looked down, then back over his shoulder at the others.
“Come and see,” he said smiling softly, his eyes warm and vivid with victory.
“I must go,” Greenjade insisted later in the evening, as he and Meleth made ready for bed. “Elves or no elves. It is my land, and I shall defend it. Those Elves have naught to do with Calador, they do not even live there. I do not know where they came from. The King is being all clever and mysterious about it, but I am going whether they like it or not. And now that that’s settled, we had better decide what to do about Serilinn, and quickly.”
“What of Serilinn’s graduation?” Meleth said, where she stood by the window, looking eastward in the candlelight.
“You shall go, even as you said,” Greenjade said as he dropped his shirt to the floor, then came to stand behind her, laying his hands upon her waist, caressing her sides. “Sméagol shall go in my stead. Please understand that I must do this. Lord Faramir will come, or send someone to escort her and Kaerwyn to Emyn Arnen.”
On the evening before Greenjade was to go to war, they went to the Academy to see Serilinn one last time.
“Just when I and Nana and Pippin were coming to live with you,” she mourned as her parents walked with her along the bridge to the Dome of the Stars, which was winking in the dusk. “And just when I was finishing my last year of school! I still cannot believe it is my last year. It seems I have been here forever. I hate that everything is changing, and not in a good way. What of Bergil, is he going also? Mikala is going to have a little one, did you know that?”
“He is not going,” Greenjade said. “The King has forbidden it, for that reason.”
“What if Nana were going to have a little one?” Serilinn said, stopping suddenly and looking at him with wide eyes. “Would you stay then, Ada Greenjade?”
He laughed, just a little, puffy laugh. Then looked at Meleth with lifted eyebrows.
Serilinn looked pleadingly at her, in the light of the city that gleamed like an iceberg in the torchlight and the scarlet sun that was rapidly seeking the western horizon, making bloody streaks on the surface of the River beneath them.
Greenjade groaned, trying to remember where he was. As he opened his eyes, he was aware of naught but pain. Starting in his head, which throbbed as though it had been pounded with Dringon’s hammer, and the pain worsened when he opened his eyes, so he shut them again very quickly. The slightest motion made the whip weals on his back and legs burst into flame, it seemed, so he tried to remain absolutely still, wondering if his ribs were broken, from the difficulty he had breathing, and the ache in his stomach and groin area was beyond description.
The worst thing, however, was the knowledge that he was a fool.
Now he could hear voices, and smell a stench that nearly made him retch, so he held his breath, trying to keep silent against the pain that the effort caused him. And he remembered, very vaguely, how he had come here. Struck down on the battlefield he knew not how, but struck down he had been, and he wondered if he still had all his parts. His hands, yes, he had those, and his feet, for he could feel pain in the soles where he had been beaten there. He wondered if he had betrayed anyone during the interrogation. Well, he could scarcely be blamed for it, if he had...but he did not think he had. How had he managed to get to sleep? Likely he had merely passed out from the pain. Then again, it could have been that fiery stuff they made him drink....
Then he heard the creak of a door being open and footsteps, heavy ones as he had heard before, and he tried to feign unconsciousness once more, only to feel a kick to his lower back, and he gave an agonized yelp. Then looked up, blinking, to see a tall figure in dark purple occupying the red haze before his eyes. It had a man’s face, darkish in hue, with rings drawn about the eyes, which were dark also, and the wide lips were drawn back to show slightly discolored teeth above a short black beard. A gold medallion hung from a heavy chain around his neck, showing an etching of a rising sun, the symbol of the Easterlings of Rhun.
The mouth spoke words he did not understand, and he heard a voice from without the cell talking the same tongue, sharp guttural sounds interspersed with a grating laugh. Then the tall man reached down a scarlet-gloved hand and grabbed a handful of Greenjade’s hair.
“Stand up!” he said in an accent Greenjade remembered well. “Or I make things far less comfortable for you than they be now.”
He made as if to kick Greenjade in the stomach, and he instinctively drew up his knees in a self-protective gesture. The purple man laughed once more.
“Do you need assistance?” he said. “I shall be happy to give it to you, Westron. I am very kindhearted fellow that way. Come, stand, now!”
Greenjade managed to get to his knees. His tormenter watched with amusement in his ringed eyes.
“Hungry, my good friend?” he said. “I’ve a bit of breakfast for you. I noticed you had a hard time keeping down the previous day’s repast. I sympathize, truly. I know how it is, in the previous War, when your Gondorian soldiers captured me and kept me locked up for their amusement for weeks on end. Oh, they had their little fun with me, to be sure, and had I been better able to understand their language, they might have obtained some useful information. But I shall treat you better than that. Here…” He lifted a wooden tray on which lay a slab of bread and meat that did not appear to be very well cooked, if at all, as well as a slice of moldy cheese. “Not very sumptuous, I am afraid. Perhaps you are used to better. But it is far better than what your people served me in my captivity. So, here, eat, enjoy with fine appetite. Perhaps it will stay down this time.”
“I much doubt it,” Greenjade said, barely managing to get the words through his swollen lips. He wondered if he should point out that he was no Gondorian, and had naught to do with the men who had captured this fellow in the previous War. But then he remembered he WAS a Gondorian now. “And whatever the others did to you in that other War, I had naught to do with it. I was not living in Middle-earth at that time.”
He spoke the words with a different sort of accent than that to which he was accustomed, so that the explanation would sound more plausible, yet hating himself as soon as the words were out. And wondered it the man would believe him if he said he had been one of the Sea-folk.
“Is that so?” the Easterling said raising black straight eyebrows that seemed to be joined over his large thin hooked nose, so that they appeared one brow. “I heard you babbling some outlandish tongue in your sleep, the like of which I have never heard before. I shall not ask what you were saying. From which region come you?”
“I am from far over the Sea,” Greenjade said, still in the same accent. “My name is Zylanthaleu, meaning Green Stone.”
“Eat, Zylanthaleu,” the Easterling said. “You want a bit of strength. We do not expect to be here so much longer, and I think it not likely that any will wish to bear you as burden. So you will have no choice but to go on your own legs, unless you would remain behind, and you shall do so only as a corpse. So. Enjoy your foods, Westron. And try to keep it all in your belly if possible.”
As Greenjade’s vision cleared, he saw that he was in some sort of cave. A torch burned nearby, wedged between two stones to keep it upright. He could see iron bars behind him, and it was his guess that the mouth of the cave was closely guarded. His chances of escaping were slim indeed. Whereas if he allowed himself to be taken…But where would they take him, and what would they inflict upon him?
“Ah, and here,” the Easterling pulled a flask from his belt. “Drink this. It will ease your pain. I predict you will not enjoy the taste. But you will likely revel in the effects when it is all in you. You are fortunate, Westron. I was not treated so hospitably, myself.”
Greenjade wavered, his hand actually reaching out for the flask. Anything was better than the way he felt now, even death.
Yet he had a strong feeling the brew would have an effect upon his faculties that would worsen things for him. He withdrew his hand.
“No, thank you,” he said, still in the accent. “Keep it for yourself.”
The Easterling’s ringed eyes widened in surprise, then narrowed in anger and hatred.
“How dare you refuse me, swine!” he rasped. “Shall you force me to pour it within you?”
“I think you should reconsider,” Greenjade said reaching out for the flask. “You cannot win this war, you know, Easterling. For I’ve an influence you know naught of. I have called forth legions from the Realm of the Dead, from which I have come myself.”
The tall man squinted down at him.
“The Realm of the Dead, you say?” he said with his head cocked to one side. “Do not tell me. The Dead Army, which vanquished our forces in the War of the Ring? I have seen none of such green folk.”
“Nay, not that Army, purple one,” Greenjade said. “It is even better than that one, and their numbers are greater. And I must say, it is far more comely to look upon, and smells better too.”
“You are playing with me,” the Easterling said. “I am in no mood for it, unfortunately. Drink, Westron. You look as though you need some relief, and if you do not, I can promise you that you will hurt far worse than now.”
Greenjade put the flask to his lips and tipped it, trying not to let more than a drop escape, then drew back and spat.
“Ack!” he gasped, nearly dropping the vessel. The tall man laughed. “What is in this? Camel piss?”
“I know not the names you would give the...the ingredients,” the Easterling said. “Some comes from pretty flowers you like to grow in your gardens. But it will not harm you, if you drink not too much. Come, come, drink. You will get used to the taste. It contains alcohol, you know.”
“I do not drink alcohol,” Greenjade said. “It doesn’t agree with me.”
“Agree with you?” the Easterling snorted. “You have discussion with it? Who makes the chit-chat with a drink? Or is this custom where you come from?”
Greenjade’s only reply was to take the flask and turn it upside down, spilling all the contents on the cave floor. The tall man gave an indignant roar.
“You will be sorry for your mockeries!” he shouted. “Whore’s son! Agree with THIS!”
He pulled out a sword from his belt, that had a long curved blade attached to a gemmed bronze hilt, and held it over Greenjade’s head with both hands. Greenjade looked blandly up at him, awaiting his fate, then spat at him. Might just as well.
Meleth, he thought. Serilinn. Radagast, look after them, please. Elladan, be good to my lass....
And suddenly the Easterling gave a small hideous cry and dropped the sword, narrowly missing Greenjade’s neck, then fell forward on his face, an arrow sticking out of his back.
Behind him stood an Elf, with pale hair rather like Northlight’s, a long bow in his hand. Despite his chainmail and breastplate, his light seemed to fill the entire cave.
Greenjade grew dizzy, and instinctively groped for something to hold to. He was dimly aware of the Elf’s hands grasping him under the arms and he gave a moan of pain as his head flopped down and the Elf lifted him to his shoulders, and then Greenjade knew no more.