"My first meal as a mortal," Greenjade commented to no one in particular, as he bit down on the cheese and dried meat Radagast had supplied to both his charges, after tossing a goodly portion to his dog. Sméagol looked fearfully at her, and she eyed him with a touch of suspicion. The meat, they were told, was jerked venison. A hunter had supplied Radagast with it after the Wizard had healed his horse's foot from a fall. Greenjade had a notion that the hunter had supplied him with more than that, judging from the silvery jingle he had heard from the pouch on his belt.
"She'll do you no harm," Radagast assured Sméagol. "Will you, lass? That's my Nildë," he said as he stroked her shaggy brown head. "She came to me a year or so ago. Her dam was having trouble delivering her pups, and I happened along at the time and gave her a hand. And so her owner gave one of the little ones to me when she was old enough to part from her mother. 'Twas just in time, for I'd recently lost my horse to the ravages of old age, and found myself alone, save for Rusco." He winked up at the finch. "He fell from his nest almost the same time, and rather than put him back in only to have his mother push him out again, I took him to myself and made a companion of him. He and Nildë get on splendidly, save when he takes a mischievous turn, and perches on the back of her neck and pecks at her ears. She doesn't like that, do you, my lass?"
"How delightful," Greenjade said unenthusiastically, with his mouth full. He was not truly in the mood for any touching stories of undying animal friendship. "So, Radagast. What did you do to deserve to be saddled with the two of us? 'Tamer of Beasts' they name you, I was told. So, are we the beasts you have been called upon to tame this time? I misdoubt me that we will be such entertaining company as your dog and your bird."
It was well into late afternoon, and the three travelers had set up camp in a pleasant clearing grown with ferns and wildflowers, graceful grasses and birch saplings. The finch, Rusco, was now perched in one of them, sending out an occasional twitter, and Sméagol, who seemed strangely untalkative at the moment, looked up to him occasionally, at which the bird would flutter up higher into the tree.
"I failed Middle-earth," said the Wizard softly in reply. He had taken no meat, himself, but contented himself with bread and cheese and fruit. "I was sent here with the other Wizards to help bring about the downfall of Sauron. But I became too fond of my birds and beasts, and began neglecting the folk I was sent to help. And I was foolish enough to aid Saruman in his rise and fall into evil ways, helping him to teach birds to spy for him. I should have known what he was about, and yet I failed. All I did was send the great Eagles to Mt. Doom, where the final battle took place. But it was not enough, and I was prohibited from returning to my true home."
"And so we are the means by which you will be allowed to go there?" Greenjade said. "If you can turn us toward the Light, and make something good and useful of such worthless scum as ourselves, you will have atoned for this supposed failure of yours?"
Radagast did not answer for looking to Sméagol, who was now shivering and cowering at the mention of Mt. Doom.
"There, my lad, what is is?" the Wizard said, laying a gentle hand on the wretch's shoulder. "What is frightening you? I assure you that all that was hideous and evil in Mordor is gone now, and all that is left to us is to make it into something fair and sacred and…" He had been about to say "precious" but thought better of it. "Your former master has interceded for your release from the dreadful place, and according to him, 'twas you, indeed, that brought about the downfall of Sauron, for he found that he could not do so, himself. Like myself, he failed. That is why you have been granted this boon, and given the chance to begin anew. Do you still crave the object of your former devotion?"
Greenjade noted his avoidance of the word "Ring". He saw Sméagol shudder, then to his surprise, shake his head.
"No no no no…we don't wants the Preciousss now," he murmured, ducking his head further into his breast. "Nasty ole thing. It betrayed us, it did. It tossed us into the Fire. It took us to the Bad Place. Wicked and nasty, it is…we don't wants it now. Never, never, never!"
"That's wonderful," Radagast looked immensely cheered and relieved. "Then you have been purged of you desire for it, and can make something of your life once more. What is it you desire now, Sméagol?"
Sméagol raised his curly head and looked up at the Wizard with teary eyes, sniffling, in puzzlement at the kindness being showed him. He swiped at his nose with the back of his hand, childishly, and puckered his brow at the question.
"We wants," he said finally, "a soft bed, and nice foods to eat, and cool water to drink, and the touch of grasses under our feets, and...and..."
"And?" The Wizard's face clouded a little. Greenjade frowned. He had a feeling that Sméagol's heart's desire was not to be granted him in this life, and therefore, neither was his own...whatever it might be. Such simple creature comforts as Sméagol described were not what he craved for himself; the desire for such was what had made others contemptible in his eyes. Even now, he barely held back a scornful sniff.
"We would...we would walk out in the daytime," Sméagol spoke barely above a whisper, "and the peoples would not be afraid of us, they would not pull their little ones away, they would not whisper in ears about us, they would smile and speak to us in the streets. Dogs would not bark at us, horses would not shy, young ones would not throw stones. We would fish, and the peoples would buy our fishes, and smile, and not call us names."
"I see," Radagast said thoughtfully, while Greenjade barely refrained from sneering once more. "You wish to be as others then, and live in the Light. But you feel as though you have no right, because of your past misdeeds? Can you not feel that you have been sufficiently punished for them, and thus leave them behind you?"
"We would be good," Sméagol said hiccuping into his hands. "We would do what Brown Master says, we would."
"I am not your master, but only your guide and protector," Radagast said. "I take my orders from a higher power, myself. I dare say we will learn from one another, as we go our way. So, Greenjade--what is it that you desire? Or do you care to answer yet?"
Greenjade almost snapped, "I don't," but the retort died in his throat.
"I had a wish to know," he said, "in my former life. But that wish was my undoing. It were better if I had been content with what it was given me to know. But it was not enough. Why should it be thus? Is this how it goes with all who would know? Surely I am not alone in this desire. Yet does it always prove the undoing of all who wish to know?"
"Not all," Radagast said. "Yes, it goes that way with some—Saruman being one of those. It can be a dangerous thing, to try and harness the lightning of the gods, so to speak. A craving for knowledge is a good thing in itself. But it is like a craving for gold; the more one has, the more one wants, and the desire can devour all that is simple and pure and good in one's being. One can no longer be satisfied with what one has, and as often as not, each new acquisition adds weight to one's purposes, until one loses sight of the purposes themselves. Picture yourself standing before a tower with many levels. You climb to the first level, and find delightful and simple things there: delicious foods, excellent company, pleasant activities. You are drawn to them, but then your eye catches sight of the staircase leading to the next level, and you would discover what lay up there, although you are told that you cannot come back to this level if you go up there. On the next level lie even more tempting delights—lovely music, fair and compliant maidens, spicy food and strong drink. You are enthralled…until you see the next staircase. On the third level you see heaps of gold and gems, and excessively valuable objects, and you wish to throw yourself upon them, until you spy that next staircase, and up there, you discover things that impart extraordinary powers and knowledge to you…then you ascend to the next where you are confronted with all manner of wickedness, and rather than turning from it, as you would have done once, you wish to embrace it all…until the next staircase looms before you…and so on and on until you come to the very top, where you are confronted with the entire world at your disposal. You would have it all…but you cannot go down the way you came. The door behind you has locked itself. You are trapped atop of the tower…and there is but one way down, and that way, of course, are flames and destruction, and that's when you realize that you were not ascending, but rather descending, and the illusion of height was just that, an illusion."
Greenjade found himself shuddering all over, in every bone, his throat gone dry. He glanced over at Sméagol, who, to his utter astonishment, seemed to have calmed down completely, and was stroking the dog's head and humming softly.
"What is it you seek now, Greenjade?" Radagast asked him. Greenjade looked up at him, at the grey hair and beard flowing over his plain brown robe, belted with a bit of silky-looking rope, the brown leather boots on his feet, his large and strong brown hands, his brown and craggy face with the brown eyes that had seen the dawning and passing of ages, and were gemmed and fathomless windows to the vast and fertile and untowered region that was his soul.
I want to wear the rich garments and pliant boots of a Prince, to have a female's soft flesh against my flesh, to feel her arms draped around me and to smell the perfume of her hair cascading over my pillow, and to see her still there when I wake in the morning. I want to hear my Sirens sing songs composed for me alone and raise their white arms for joy, I want to dive from a sky-high cliff into sparkling waters with no fear of dashing myself to bits upon the reefs, I want to take the form of a seabird and fly into the icy hair of the clouds, I want to see my mate's eyes looking adoringly into mine, I want to watch my children splash and play in the towering waves and ride on the backs of whales, I want to hear the music of the sea and the stars and the mountains and the trees and the fishes and the endless heavens, I want to feel my brothers and sisters embrace me as their own for the first time…I want to forget the unutterable halls of the Black Dungeon and the shrieks and cries in the center of my being…I want to toss all the knowledge I acquired in that early life into the fire and watch it melt into a sulphurous mist and vanish into nothingness…
"What do you seek, Greenjade?" the Wizard's voice asked him as from a bridge spanning a bottomless chasm.
"The Truth," Greenjade heard himself say, as the sun dipped unnoticed into the smoke-blue hills in the distance.