They had her. It was Meleth who now hung from the roof of the cave, bloody and helpless, as the Easterling popped away at her body with his whip…and Serilinn, chained in a corner, was forced to look on, pleading with him to stop, her tears forming a puddle around her….
Why did your people not stop them, he hissed, when it was I who hung there?
I’m sorry, I had naught to do with it, Meleth whimpered, and he struck her again. She shrieked.
Quiet, whore, he said, they will hear you. And Serilinn cast himself at his feet.
Beat me instead, she said.
Nay, take me, Greenjade called to him, and let them go, but the Easterling did not even look his way. Desperately Greenjade looked about for a weapon, but he could not move his arms nor his legs, and even trying cost him such pain as he had not believed possible…
And now the Easterling was building a fire…underneath Meleth’s feet, and he seized Serilinn’s arm and dragged her toward it….
NOOOOOO, Greenjade shrieked.....
“Greenjade, wake up,” a soft voice said. Greenjade flopped over on his side, and looked up, to see that he lay on a cot in a tent where several other wounded men and Elves lay. And he saw that he himself was quite naked, covered with a sheet pulled up to his shoulders.
“Elladan?” he said blinking and shaking. “Or is it Elrohir?”
“Elladan,” the Elf said smiling, laying a cool hand to Greenjade’s hot cheek. “How are you now, old man?”
“Oh…shit,” gasped Greenjade in relieved desolation.
“How long have I been here?” Greenjade asked as Elladan brought him a bedpan, then went to fetch some ointment to put on his wounds. The Elf wore a white knee-length apron over grey leggings and shirt, his dark hair bound into a long braid, his sleeves rolled up to his elbows. The apron had a few red smudges on it.
“About three days,” he said. “You were in a very bad way when you were brought in. Very bad indeed. I was horribly afraid we were going to lose you. Here, let me have a peek.”
Greenjade hesitated. Elladan smiled.
“I’ll see naught that I’ve not seen before, you know,” he said. “We have bathed at the crater lake all together more than once, remember?”
“Aye,” Greenjade said as Elladan lifted the sheet. “I’ve naught that you don’t have; there’s just more hair on it. Now I know why Elves wear their hair long…to make up for the lack of it elsewhere.”
“You are in a most vulnerable position now, my dear friend,” Elladan reminded him teasingly. “You may wish to show some respect.”
“I do not fear you,” Greenjade retorted. “You love me too much to hurt me.”
“That I do,” Elladan agreed as he opened an earthen jar with a familiar scent. “Can you blame me?”
“Not in the slightest,” Greenjade said, thinking, If you only knew. Then winced.
“I am sorry,” Elladan said. “It stings a bit going on, but it will feel wonderful in no time. This remedy has been in our family for over two ages. Mercy on us, what a fever you have, poor fellow. Like touching a stove. I hope this will bring it down.”
“I know that stuff,” Greenjade said. “The elven balm. Radagast used it on me more than once.”
He lay still, on his belly, while Elladan dabbed the balm on his wounds and lacerations with a soft cloth, murmuring, “Poor fellow” almost to himself, then singing a little under his breath. Already the stuff was taking effect, and Greenjade closed his eyes, and even his nightmare seemed something that had happened hundreds of years ago. Tears welled up and he blinked them back as he remembered people in Elvea saying how gentle and tender Elladan was with his patients, like a mother, and now Greenjade had come to find his reputation was deserved. Not that he had ever doubted it, but it still came as a sweet surprise. Elrohir, it was said, was sterner, more authoritative, less indulgent. Which could be a good thing sometimes.
“So will I be going back, or home?” Greenjade said after Elladan covered him up once more.
“Home. We all will. The war is over.”
“Aye. We may see Serilinn graduate yet. Perhaps you should listen to your future son-in-law more closely at times, instead of judging him by his hairless body and pointy ears and lovely long locks, and his very bad harp playing. Sometimes he knows whereof he speaks.”
“So the Easterlings have surrendered? Just like that?” Greenjade raised himself up on one elbow.
“You are starting to catch on,” Elladan said with a lifted finger. “Excellent. Now, my most brave and excellent friend, I am going to ffetch you something to help you sleep, and it will prevent nightmares like the one you had previous. I want you to drink it all down and rest. It is the best thing you can do to heal yourself…just sleep.”
“Where is Meleth?” Greenjade heard himself ask. “She was going as a nurse…”
“I fear she will not get her chance now to come in and smooth your fevered brow for you, dear chap. Which is just as well, considering some of the horror stories I’ve heard about what Easterlings have been known to do to womenfolk. Our armies vanquished them in a matter of hours, or so I heard. They are plainly not your average spear-rattlers, nor your run-of-the-mill tree-patting, hymn-warbling pretty-boy Elves.”
“So where did they come from?” Greenjade asked. “I was told that most had gone into the West. Yet there were vast legions of them. You all could have made good use of them during the War of the Ring, could you not? Where were they when you really needed them? Are they from the Undying Lands, sent here to fight our war for us?”
Elladan was about to say something when a moan from a nearby cot attracted his attention.
“Pardon me for a moment,” he said, and went to check on the source of the sound. He was a while attending to the patient, and Greenjade laid his head down on his pillow, feeling a trifle dizzy. He tried breathing deeply of the balm-scent, and it helped somewhat, but his ribs hurt confoundedly. He kept remembering his deliverer, and wondering if he would see him again...if he were still alive....
Now he could see Elrohir coming into the tent and speaking to his brother, and Greenjade closed his eyes once more. Now he could go home. Now Meleth and Serilinn could come live with him in Radagast’s house, and they might live happily ever after....
...if only he could shake this darkness that had hold of him.
If only he could forget what had passed in that cave.
“I am sorry to have been gone such a time,” Elladan’s voice startled him. “That poor chap’s left arm was nearly severed below the elbow and I had to sew it on so he wouldn’t lose it, and it’s paining him considerably. Now I shall go and brew your sleeping-draught, and want you to lie here quietly and not stir yourself about, what? If you need anything, call for the nurse, or for my brother if he happens to pass by. Are you comfortable now, old man?”
“I’ve no intention of stirring myself about just now,” Greenjade said. “And I’m comfortable enough, I suppose…for the shape I’m in. But may I ask a favor of you…and Elrohir?”
“Please do not write Meleth and tell her all that happened to me. I do not wish her to know. You may tell her I was wounded--that is true enough. But I don’t wish her and Serilinn to know what I went through.”
“She will not hear it from me,” Elladan promised him, kneeling down beside his cot and taking Greenjade’s hand in both his. “But what of your scars? She will see them, you know. You do undress for her from time to time, do you not? How will you explain them?”
“There are not so many. I shall undress only in the dark when she is here, and keep my back from her,” Greenjade said. Elladan shook his head sadly, and Greenjade knew even as he spoke that the Elf was right.
“I shall tell her when the time is right,” Greenjade said. “But I would have naught spoil Serilinn’s graduation.”
Elladan nodded wisely. “This is why I love you,” he said rising. “You are so unselfish. It is inspiring to me. You and Radagast both.”
By sheer impulse Greenjade took Elladan’s wrist and pressed it lightly. Elladan bent down and kissed the top of his head, then departed once more before Greenjade could remember to ask him who the Elves were. He had a feeling Elladan knew more than he was telling.
About a week later he was able to sit up, although it hurt him yet to put clothes on. But he was so sick of lying flat on his stomach. He was moved from the tent of the wounded into one for those recovering, and the twins slept there also. The wounded Elves recovered far more quickly than the Men, such as they were, and some of them assisted the brothers in the care of the more seriously wounded. A few of these died, and were burned on a pyre in the encampment, with much solemnity and respect, but little sadness.
And Greenjade wondered about the Elves once more.
And then one day as he was getting some breakfast, he remembered a conversation with the twins about two years previous, and nearly fell off his chair. Could it be...?
It was not possible, was it? Then again....
But what else could it be?
After the meal he got up and went about, although he knew Elladan would not approve, and watched the Elves as they helped the brothers tend the wounded, wondering about his deliverer and trying to see if he were among them. Well he remembered the silvery fair hair that was very like Northlight’s, yet he did not see such among these, some of whom were dark-haired, others fair, but none silvery. He wondered if he would ever see the fellow again…and then he thought once more of something Elrohir had said, long ago.
Light hair, I think. Aye, very light hair, and a gaze that was hard to forget, which is how I recognized him, I think….
Greenjade caught Elladan’s eye across the tent, and the Elf looked at him and shook his head, and gestured to him to go back to his own tent.
Did he know?
Greenjade felt a sudden weariness, and went back to the tent, but did not go inside. He sat down beneath a tree, looking all about him. The camp was located somewhere in what was once known as the Valley of Udun, near where the Black Gate had been located.
And he thought of the battle. The Elves had come in full armor, with swords, spears, bows and arrows, all of it. Some on horseback, others on foot. On the eve of the battle, Greenjade had stayed in the Men’s tent, feeling daunted by so many strange Elves all about, talking in a language he did not understand, and no one else seeming to know who they were, or from whence they had come. Aragorn had not been forthcoming, and now Greenjade could see why. Well, what else could explain all the secrecy?
He remembered the Easterlings, in their golden armor, their rectangular shields, their horned helmets, their wide chariots and jeweled swords. The stories he had heard of them, from the twins in particular, who had fought under Romendacil II against them, and again much later under King Turambar.
“Did he tell you a tale about how badly he was treated by his Gondorian captors?” Elrohir had asked Greenjade concerning his tormenter. “They all do that, you know, in order to try and justify their treatment of their captives. Which is not to say it never happens—mistreatment by Gondorians, who are not perfect after all--but they like to act the victim and make you feel guilty, all the same. Sad to say, Elladan and I did laugh at some captives once, as they were being taken away in chains, and threw pinecones at them. We were quite young then. It was long before all the really bad things happened.”
“Why were you fighting for the Gondorians?” Greenjade asked.
“Because we had been rangering with them, and it seemed only right,” Elladan explained. “And we wanted to see some Easterlings. We’d heard so many wild stories of them, and we were brash young things, a mere trifling four hundred and eleven years old, still wet behind the ears, as it were. You know how such cocky youths are about going after honor and glory and such as that, sporting the glittery armor and swinging swords and what have you. Needless to say, we soon found that war was no joke, and when we saw the King slain before our eyes, impaled upon an Easterling spear, our innocence was shed like a snakeskin, never to be found again. Strange to think the thing most worth having is the thing you most wish to lose, until you do lose it, and then you’d give anything to get it back.”
“I cannot remember ever having it,” Greenjade said.
“Nor can I,” Elrohir said solemnly.
As Greenjade sat beside the tent, he remembered their conversation. And thought once more, that there was little worse than being a fool.
He could have been home, preparing for Meleth’s arrival, planning the house he would build for her...but no, he had to go to war, and prove himself...and what had he proven?
That he was a fool.
How could Meleth ever respect him again? She was so much older than he, so much wiser, so far above him. It was as if she were a giant, like one of the Argonath, her head touching the clouds, the sun in her eyes, while he could only stand on the riverbank looking up, up at her, so high and distant, not even big enough to see over her toes. And she would look down and not see him at all, or if she did, she would think him an insect at her feet, and refrain from squashing him only out of pity....
He picked up a stone and hurled it at a nearby tree.
So what now?
Even from a distance, it would not have been any object to pick Serilinn out from the line of graduates in their simple white dresses, gathered in the assembly hall of the Academy. They all appeared nearly grown-up young ladies, while Serilinn yet appeared a child of about twelve, amongst them. Yet there was that simple grace and glory about her that set her above them all, at least to Greenjade’s way of thinking.
The dark cloud in his head rose a bit as the girls filed up onto the platform, lit by small torches, and he held his breath hoping Serilinn would not walk too close to one of the flames and catch her dress. He noted how much shorter it was than the ones of the others, which were ankle length; hers was just a couple of inches past her knees. She’d said more than once that her school dress from her first year had been replaced because it wore out, not because she had outgrown it. Her lustrous hair was held back with a pair of combs, a couple of small white flowers tucked into it—from the White Tree; Lady Arwen had brought them to her. She said she’d turned back at the last minute to get flowers for the others, lest they think she was playing favorites. She sat on the other side of Meleth, along with her brothers, while Radagast and Sméagol and Gimli sat on the other side of Greenjade. Bergil and Mikala, now visibly pregnant, sat in front of them, along with Ruan and her fellow, and Bergil’s sister Ivrenel, who was now attending the school, but had two more years to go. And Bergil’s parents and Mikala’s mother and stepfather and Little Gandalf, who was quite fidgety, but said little.
Kaerwyn and Gilglin stood on either side of Serilinn. Kaerwyn now stood almost a head taller than Serilinn, and Gilglin was just a little shorter than Kaerwyn. She was much better looking than when Greenjade had first seen her, and was now rather a handsome girl, in a severe and square-faced fashion. Serilinn said she would remain at the school as a teacher in training. Kaerwyn would be coming to Calador with the rest, and Serilinn was most excited about it. She would be staying with them until she found some work--she wished to become a healer of horses--and could have a home of her own. Greenjade was not thrilled about it, although he liked Kaerwyn; he would have preferred it to be just the three of them. But he said nothing.
Watching the girls on the platform, and particularly Serilinn, breathtaking in her quiet radiance, he was taken back in time, to the night he had found her among the Blood Drinkers, and the memory of her lying beside him in the forest, the day they found the entling, the sound of her singing to it as she rode the donkey on the way to the Widdicombs'... holding his hand and talking to him while he was ill, comforting him when the spirit of Darkfin plagued him...sitting with the Widdicomb girls in her white dress like a lotus blossom among daisies...her grief at having to surrender Eglenbein to his mother...perched high on the cliff with him in the Misty Mountains...holding little Elfwine, trying on her fine new gowns...the wonder in her eyes at the sight of the Glittering Caves...a wholly different kind of wonder when she got her first look at the sons of Elrond....and Greenjade's heart was full of her to overflowing, until there was no room for anything else, not for darkness or cries or bleeding....
Harp music played from an unseen source as the certificates of graduation were passed out to the girls. Mistress Haldaraina put the rolled-up pieces of parchment, tied with gold ribbons, into each graduate’s hand, and kissed each one on the forehead, according to the custom of the land. This done, she stepped up to the podium, saying that now there would be a speech by one of the girls.
Greenjade did not know why he should have been surprised when the speaker turned out to be Serilinn. Still, he would have supposed it would be Gilglin, who had a fine speaking voice and an authoritative manner.
Serilinn took her place as the headmistress moved away from the podium, and stood smiling out at everyone, waiting for the applause to die down. Then she cleared her throat a little, and began to speak.
“Thank you all for coming to see us on this wonderful day,” she said. “It has been a most thrilling five years for me, and a most unexpected privilege to be allowed to attend this school. I have loved living amongst intelligent girls with a purpose in life far above the mundane, who have interest in the world about them, who love beautiful things, and wish to learn and become filled as a pitcher at the fountain of knowledge, and live up to their true potential. It has been most inspiring to be able to teach things to others as well as learn things, and help them over the rough places just as I have been helped. And I have had so much fun doing commonplace things with them, and I have learned all about the joy of friendship and that is the very best thing of all.
“And now we have come to the end of our time here, and must go out into the wide world, away from our blessed haven. I can only hope the valuable lessons we have acquired will help us on our journey, and that the memory of the friendships we have made here will bring us comfort in lonely times. And I hope that the stories we have read here of the bravery of the Company who vanquished the Enemy in the War of the Ring will inspire us to courageous deeds of our own, will help to guide us in the right path, and will lead us to appreciate the sacrifices that so many have made that we might be free to live our lives without fear and privation.
“Oh, one more thing: I wish to thank my lovely parents for adopting me as their own, and rescuing me from the unspeakable fate I would have endured had they not come along. I also thank my Ada Greenjade for having the courage to go out in defense of his country, which he did so the rest of us might be free and safe to continue to make it grow in the Light. May he be forever blessed and healed. And also those who saved his life.”
The applause was thunderous as the girls all filed down from the platform to the music that once more began to play, nearly unheard by all. And Greenjade could scarcely see any of them for the light that filled the hall as if the sun itself had crashed in through the ceiling, filling his head as Serilinn now filled his arms.
“I have a new project for you,” Aragorn said the day after the graduation. “Do you feel up to it yet?”
“Depends on what it is,” Greenjade said.
“It’s rather a big one,” the King said as he lit his pipe. They sat out on the terrace in back of the Palace, overlooking the garden, which was lushly in bloom, and Serilinn, Meleth, Kaerwyn, Meleth and Ruan were all down there, along with Luthien and Eldarion and Little Gandalf and Pippin the dog. It was a beautiful summer day, full of fragrance and the sounds of the City going about its daily routines, and the shouts and giggles issuing from the garden. “Queen Lothiriel has been overseeing an orphans’ home in Rohan, and she says many of the girls in it are quite grown now, and will soon have to be leaving. Radagast has spoken of something you and he discussed once about bringing women into Calador. Well, Eomer consented to the girls’ going as long as a dwelling is provided for them, and worthy work and protection, so that those who wish to go might marry. Your job would be to build this dwelling for them. There would be a matron to go along with them to see to things, certainly. They will all work together keeping up the house, and plant a garden for their sustenance, and perhaps hire themselves out as dairymaids or laundresses and such. A man seeking a wife might choose from among them, and if she is amenable to it, he might court her for a while and then speak for her, and she would be provided with a small dowry. What think you?”
“Well…I dare say it would give me something to do to keep me from brooding overmuch,” Greenjade admitted, trying to picture it. “You will provide all the materials and such?”
“Aye. And the Elves would help with the building…so that it would turn out a handsomer dwelling than if rough men should do it all,” the King said with twinkling eyes. Greenjade narrowed his own.
“I was going to ask,” he said coolly, “what all those Elves would do now that the war was over. So they are staying in Middle-earth?”
“Aye, I have given them land in the east of Calador, and the south as well,” Aragorn said. “They will not be staying in Elvea much after the project is completed, so you need not worry on that score.”
“Oh, I was not worried,” Greenjade said, yet he could not help but feel a little relieved, at the same time ashamed of himself for the feeling. “Merely wondering. Also wondering if Elladan and Elrohir knew all along who they were.”
“You did not ask them?” Aragorn said.
“I started to, many times. Yet something held me back always, I do not know why. Did they know from the beginning?”
“I imagine they did,” the King said soberly.
“And that is why you placed them in the medical corps? So they would not have to fight alongside of…”
“Nay. I placed them in the medical corps because they were needed there. They have excellent healing skills, as you have observed.”
“I have indeed,” Greenjade said, and smiled, looking down toward the garden to see the twins entering through the gate, and the royal children rushing to meet their uncles, Serilinn coming up a little shyly behind them. “I can think of no one I would rather have marry Serilinn than Elladan...even though I could wish he might trim his hair to a decent length. It is a bit disgruntling to think of having a son-in-law with more hair than his wife.”
Aragorn laughed aloud.
“They knew all along,” Greenjade said, “and yet...they cared for the wounded Elves as they would any others. Saved many lives, and eased their pain as best as they could. And they knew, the whole time. Wondering, surely, if any of them were the ones who had harmed their mother.”
Aragorn nodded, more soberly, and the two men sat in silence for a moment, taking it all in.
“Do you wish to discuss this with Meleth before accepting the job?” the King said after a while.
“I do not think she will have any objection,” Greenjade said. “In fact, I think she will be most enthusiastic, and will willingly help out any way she can. That is how she is. And I’ve a new assistant now, Garulf Sturmholt, from Rohan. He’s only twenty years old, but most skillful and a big help about the shop, and I am fond of him already. This would be a fine learning experience for him.”
“Then it’s a go,” the King said in obvious delight. “I will show you a drawing Arwen made for the home. You can tell me what you think, and I’m sure she will not object if you were to suggest any alterations. After all, you know far more about building houses than she, as she well knows.”
Meleth’s reaction to the plan was exactly as Greenjade predicted it would be. Serilinn, of course, was overjoyed. She made all manner of suggestions for the design of the house, and drew several herself, astonishing in their ingenuity.
“That’s a young architect in the making,” Aragorn said of her. Arwen nodded.
“She should be taught,” she said. “Someday I must find one who would be willing to take her on. I’m certain she has all kinds of ideas and may well change the face of Middle-earth.”
Greenjade could only grin proudly.
A week later the moving process began. Serilinn stood looking at the cottage as Greenjade, the twins, and Radagast and Sméagol began loading the wagons with furniture and other household items. Radagast had already declared that the family would live in his house. The twins were moving out into a house of their own, which the Elves would help build. Radagast would give his room to Greenjade and Meleth—he insisted—and take the porch-room downstairs. It would suit him better than that big room anyway, being closer to the garden, he said, and Nilde would like it much better too. Serilinn would take the twins’ room, and Kaerwyn would share it with her until the dormitory was built. Sméagol and Gimli would move into the stable rooms.
“I cannot believe we are leaving this cottage forever,” Serilinn mourned as she and Kaerwyn helped Meleth carry out odds and ends to the wagons. Pippin followed them to and from the house, wagging his tail and looking up expectantly for petting, which he got sporadically. It made him very happy for a time, then he would look up for more. “I wish Rusco would come with us. I will miss him very much. But I suppose he will be happy here with his bird-family. I wonder who will live here after us.”
“And who will teach the school now?” Kaerwyn asked.
“There will be another teacher—one of Meleth’s former pupils,” Radagast said.
“Yes, Brynnien will be very good at it,” Meleth said. “She is a smart lass—well, I should not call her a lass, considering that she is twenty-two years old. She is very clever and has all manner of ideas, and was often a great help to me while I was teaching the little ones. I feel confident in turning over the school to her.”
Mistress Amdir, the former housekeeper, came over bring a basket of food, and they sat out in the yard and ate it, reminiscing, sometimes weeping, discussing what they would do when they got to Calador. Serilinn bubbled on and on about how at last she was actually going to see the land she had named herself. Faramir and Eowyn came down, along with the children and Beregond, to see them off, and to provide them with yet another wagon.
And at last they were off…singing, well on their way to their new home where they would live as a family…and where Greenjade would hoist his flag at last, in the town square that soon would be built in the city of Elvea.