The Grey at the End of the World: 28. Epilogue

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28. Epilogue


People said afterward that a coal popping out of the fireplace started the blaze. So men chided their wives, warning them to bank the coals with ashes before they retired at night. The fire was remembered for a generation; it devoured house and barn, the enclosed passage that had connected them, and the family within.

The neighbors rushed to help, but the farmer had been a churlish fellow who built his house in the middle of his fields, a half-mile from the village. The flames were shooting out of the roof by the time they could get there and form a chain of buckets from the well. They stopped it before it spread to the standing corn; that was as much as they could do.

They found the farmwife later in the morning, wandering the pasture without a stitch of clothing, carrying her little daughter. They both were badly burned, and the mother died by nightfall. The child might easily have died as well; the old granny-woman who brought babies was the only healer, and she offered scant hope. There was no one of the family left to care.

The girl lay in the midwife's hut while the elders met to portion out her father's fields to his former neighbors. It was only sensible; the ground could not be left unplowed, to revert to wilderness – it was arduous labor clearing land for farming. Meanwhile the granny-woman smeared goose grease on the child and gave her beer to make her sleep. For two or three days she stayed near-by, but in truth there was little she could do, and the girl's groaning wore on her nerves. At last she took a basket and went to pick mushrooms in the surrounding woods. By the time she returned at evening, she hoped it would be over.

When her basket was near full she saw one mushroom larger than all the rest beneath a bush, and crawled under to retrieve it. But when she had it safe and straightened up, rubbing her aching back, her mouth opened in a round O of surprise, and she dropped basket and all and stumbled backward, flailing her arms in the effort not to fall.

"Don't be afraid!" The voice was kind, and the apparition which had so startled her bent to gather up her scattered mushrooms. "You must have heard of me – I know what stories are told round the fire on winter evenings. I'll take my oath you never heard of the Old Man harming anyone."

She shook her head without speaking, accepting the basket he held out, and he smiled on her benignly.

"I've come to fetch the child. I heard you have one badly burned, who is none of yours."

She stared at him stupidly, and he added with a touch of impatience, "You don't want her, do you?"

Again she shook her head, and he said briskly, "That's good, because I do. I am a healer, you know. Perhaps I can save her."

An hour later he was striding away from the hut with the burnt girl in his arms, swaddled in a wet sheet. The child had swooned and lay against his chest. She scarcely seemed to breathe, and he wondered if he were too late. The message had come from Logi, who heard many things from the Small Folk. In general the Orc paid scant attention to the doings of Men, but he had a great tenderness for any creature injured by fire. The Old Man knew he could expect a visit from him in the near future, to find out what had become of this child.

He walked all night, neither fast nor slow, his long legs eating up the miles. He came at last to a windowless house so cleverly constructed, it seemed no more than a dark place in the forest, grown over by briers and approached by a  twisting path more suited to a fox, one would have thought, than a man of reasonable height and more-than-slender build. He followed it sure-footed, placing each step exactly in a line with the one before, and at the portal he said softly, "Open."

The wooden door swung back, and he passed within. And inside was a miracle, for the place was full of light, filtered by the trees to cast a greenish radiance through a ceiling clear as crystal. The light wavered and danced as the foliage moved above, and the effect was rather like being at the bottom of the Sea.

The Old Man laid the girl on a narrow bed set like a cupboard in the wall.  "Rest, little one. You're home." He crossed the room to a hearth of colored stones, and knelt to make a fire.

For many weeks he nursed the child, easing her pain with herbal draughts that cast her into sleep, and soothing her skin with lotions of his own making. Logi came and saw how she was cared for, sitting up a whole night to watch her as she slept, and rising at daybreak to refuse breakfast and depart, with only a curt, "Thanks" to Radagast.

For Radagast he was, the brown man who had so frightened the midwife – Bird-tamer of the Third Age, now Keeper of small things, the Little Folk among them. Old Man, they called him, not guessing his power or his great antiquity, and he was content with that.

Only Logi was aware of his true nature, and Logi rarely spoke. Like a ghost he drifted through the northland, and the small ones knew him for protector and fled to him, but he was bitter enemy to anyone who injured them. Among Men his name was evil, for more than once he had hunted to the death a man who'd done mischief to the Little People, and his vengeance was greatly feared.

When the girl was healed enough to get up and move about, Radagast let her stir his herbal brews, and kept her amused with songs and stories. She loved hearing about Elves and Dwarves, great kings of olden times, and everything he told her she believed implicitly. But most of all she wanted tales of Logi, for Radagast had not hidden from her that it was at the Orc's urging he had come to rescue her. The Grey Man, she called him, and regarded him as her savior.

"He does not love Mankind," Radagast warned her. "You he took pity on, because of the fire, but you will find him a grim benefactor. You must not look for softness in a rock."

"He loves the Little Folk," she argued, but the old man would not agree.

"He spends himself for them; he made a vow, he told me. He is one of the immortals. Two that he loved are now beyond the Sea, and two are in the ground. He has no heart for more."

He told her about the Invasion, of Logi's treachery and Haldar's death. It explained the Grey Man's horror of fire, and was sufficient warning of his conflicted nature.

"But what became of his wife and child?"

"They died. Oh, not at once! The lad grew beautiful and strong, and with his father he kept watch over the halflings – they would kill wolves or serpents that came near the dwellings of the Little People, and drive off any Men who threatened them. Only at first was there need for that, till the Hobbits learned to be invisible. It is a rare Man these days who catches one of the Small Folk! But Freiga died in birthing another child and the babe died with her, and Haldar the Younger was longer-lived than most, but not immortal."

The girl murmured distress. "But why did she die? Why couldn't you save her the same way you saved me?"

They were in one of the Old Man's small gardens, scattered here and there about the forest. Radagast sighed, bundling up the weeds he had been pulling and pushing himself to his feet. "I am healer, child, not wonder-worker. Freiga died of broken heart as much as anything. Logi could not forgive her, as he has never forgiven himself."

A double tragedy, he thought. As long as he knew them, the Orc was harshly disdainful toward his wife, thrusting aside her evident devotion. But his flesh betrayed him: he could not forbear to touch her, brushing against her as if by accident, running his hand down her hair when he thought no one was looking. When Haldar was a lanky boy of six, big enough to run after his father along the forest trails, Freiga began to swell with new life.

Logi gave no sign that he knew she was with child. But when the birth went wrong, when she had been a night and a day in labor without result, he appeared suddenly at the wizard's door in the middle of the night, wild-eyed and drenched with sweat from running. And quickly though Radagast hastened to bring aid, the Orc was there before him, holding Freiga cradled in his arms and stroking her tangled hair, begging her not to die, while Haldar hid under a blanket in the corner, trying not to hear. The wizard could never recall the pathetic scene without pain.

She knew before the end that her husband loved her. It was the only consolation to be found in the whole sad story. After her death, Logi went crazy for a time. He vanished into the wilds without a word, and Radagast was left to dig the grave and comfort the heartbroken orphan as best he could. For half a year the Orc did not return. Then one morning he was sitting by the hearth when they awoke, and Haldar ran to him and buried his face against his father's chest, locking his arms around him as if he would never let go.

Years later when Haldar died, Logi dug the grave himself. He buried his son in a grove of towering beeches, the silvery bark set off by golden leaves, for the year was passing away, as Haldar had. Then he built himself a hut in that same grove, and if he could be said to have a home, roaming endlessly through the northland as he did, his home was there.

Radagast sighed and turned back with relief into the sunny present. Logi was wounded in ways he could not cure, but this little one, this Silja – 

She never tired of asking questions; indeed, she seldom tired at all. She was up before the sun and like a sunbeam she went everywhere, whether she had any business there or not. She pried into every nook and cranny, as she pried also into the affairs of those around her. She was a pest, she tried the wizard's patience as few creatures had ever done, and he blessed the day she came to him.

When she had been with him a year and was completely healed, he asked her one day if she wanted to go home. He thought she might; it was a lonely life for her, far from her people and with no other child for playmate. But the laughter left her face as if clouds had covered the sun, and she broke into noisy sobs.

"You told me when I came that I was home! I remember, and I remember you carrying me. This is my home."

He gathered her to him, patting her on the back, chiding himself for an old fool to be so glad of her answer. "All right, all right, my child. You remember true. This is your home, if that is your desire."

"It is – and when I grow up –"

But she broke off and would not tell him what she meant to do when she grew up. He built another room onto the house, for her to have a chamber of her own, and began teaching her to read and write. And twice or thrice a year Logi arrived unheralded, to spend a day or two before the hearth, silent more often than not, unless he recounted some need among the Small Folk that required the Old Man's assistance.

Always Silja greeted her Grey Man with cries of welcome, trying to climb into his arms. Useless for Radagast to scold her, remind her of her manners, and once when Logi bared his teeth and roared in pretended fury, "Begone, or I will cook you for my dinner!" she giggled and kissed him on the hand.

"You wouldn't – you saved my life."

At last he let her curl up on his lap, and even held her so she would not fall, when she finally fell asleep. But when she squirmed about, playing with his knife sheath and trying to plait his hair, he pinned her against his chest with his powerful left arm.

"Be still! You're like a flea, forever hopping. Watch out lest I squash you like one!" And he rubbed his thumb and finger together suggestively before her eyes. She chortled, but after that she settled down tamely in the circle of his arm.

Always during each visit he examined her burns. She was marked by the fire, and covered herself in long dresses and long sleeves, but the Grey Man would roll back her sleeves and make her lift her skirts while he looked at her arms and legs, turning her so the light fell on her scars. Her face was unmarred and he barely glanced at it, although she was a pretty thing.

"Can you not concoct some ointment to smooth her skin?" he demanded of the wizard, but Radagast shook his head.

"I have done all I can. They may lighten as she grows, but they will never go away entirely. She has you to thank that she is here at all, that you sent me word in time."

Logi grunted, but Silja settled her skirts and stood on tip-toe to look him in the eye. "I will pay you back. When I grow up I will marry you and make you happy."

Radagast's brows shot up, but to his surprise Logi gave a snort of laughter.

"Will you so? But what if I do not wish to be happy? What then, little flea?"

"Then I will love you anyway, because you saved my life, and you were sorry that you killed your friend."

But at that the Orc's expression turned so black that the wizard took Silja hastily by the elbow and drew her out of reach.

"Enough, child! Curb your tongue and go to bed."

When she woke next morning the Grey Man had departed, and Radagast tried to impress on her the discourtesy of what she'd said, leaving aside the danger of provoking such an uncertain temper as the Orc's. Dutifully she listened, but at the end she gave him a smile of utter confidence.

"All the same, I'm going to marry him, and if he is not happy he'll have only himself to blame." 

When Logi came again a season later, he examined her burns as usual before he asked, "Well, little flea? Are you going to marry me?"

"Yes," she said, and he gave a satyr's smile.

"You will think better of it."

Spring followed winter, and summer turned to fall, and she learned her letters and read her way through the Old Man's store of books. She penned fair copies of his herbal remedies, which he gave to such healers as were willing to receive them, and she learned to make the brews herself under his critical eye.

In her fifteenth summer she composed a long poem about the Orc Commander and his Elven bride. When Logi came she read it to him, and he frowned and told her to go about her business – but before he left he asked to hear it again. Later she wrote another poem, about the burning of Haldar, but that one she kept hidden and showed to no one. When she was seventeen, Radagast began considering if he should arrange a match for her, but when he broached the matter, she was so adamantly opposed that he let it drop.

That was in winter, and when spring arrived she set herself to make a border of violets along the pathway to their door. She was on her knees in the woodland, digging up plants and wrapping them in moss, when someone came suddenly from behind and pulled her to her feet, a hand clamped over her mouth.

Instead of fighting she turned on her captor and caught him round the waist.  "You cannot frighten me! I know your hand; I know the smell of your skin. Have you come to marry me?"

Logi chuckled deep in his throat. "Have you no better wisdom than to mate with wicked Logi? The Old Man himself watches over his shoulder when I am behind him."

Thus he maligned himself, yet he did not let go of her, and she leaned against him trusting, his heartbeat thumping in her ear.

"You are not wicked. You will never die and leave me, and I will make you happy."

His arm tightened on her, crushing her to his chest. She gasped, and immediately he released her, but slowly his hand came up to stroke her cheek, a touch as light as breath, amazed and tender.

"Aye, little flea. I've come to marry you."

the end

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: jodancingtree

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 4th Age

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 02/07/06

Original Post: 06/22/05

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