The Adventures
of
Frodo Gardner

Volume II
Through Shadows to the Edge of Night
By Dolores J. Nurss

Chapter 1, Part 31
The Road to Edoras

"November 11, 1451–Eowyn didn't put on her chain mail this morning but wore a pretty chemise over her leather riding-pants. She said she had no further need, with her patient properly apprehended, restrained and in treatment, and no more ring-hungry orcs hunting beyond their regular bounds for us. When I asked about sword lessons, she told me to consider myself on vacation, and she laughed as free as if she saddled up her horse to ride off on a vacation, herself. She says she has complete confidence in the horsemen who patrol these pastures to keep us safe, and she should know.
 
"Mama, you would love the chemise the Lady Eowyn wore, cream wool all bright with embroidery. (Bear with me Papa--I keep describing things for you; it's more than time I described something for Mama.) In stylized designs I could make out a repeat pattern of sword crossing shield, with a different herb between each, working its way around each cuff, up her arms, around her neck, down the front and about the hem. On the back I saw embroidered a whole healer's garden of medicinal herbs, shrubs, trees and flowers, more like an herbalist's sketches than a real garden. because it mixed up all the seasons to show each plant at its most useful stage. Yet right smack in the center lay the severed black head of what surely must be a Nazgul's beast, in a crimson puddle of satin-stitch, and in the background you could see what looked like a black rag blowing away in a wind. I think Eowyn must have embroidered this shirt for herself. All this time I bet she had it stowed away to put on only now, because mail would have snagged on all that needlework."
 
(Evening notation) "Here we are, in Rohan at last! When I climbed off Billie-Lass I set foot on the earth of Uncle Merry's other country. He felt it too, and then some. I could tell by the sparkle in his eyes and the flush in his windblown cheeks, the deep way that he breathed, the way he stood up straighter and how his shoulders seemed just a little broader. He looks about twenty years younger right now, give or take. Eowyn, too--she laughs a lot more, and while there's more smile lines around her mouth and eyes, there's fewer on her brow."
 
"November 12, 1451–The air tastes different in Rohan. It smells grassy, of course, just like I remembered from our passage through here before, but I had forgotten how that grass smells somehow more edible than our meadows of the Shire, even in November. The air tastes like a richer shade of green, if that makes any sense at all, and thicker, like cream to skim milk. Or maybe that's because we just came down from the mountains, where the atmosphere stretches so thin you find yourself panting just to walk around camp. Unless that was just me--Eowyn says anemia makes you hungrier for air. All I know right now is that I take a deep breath here in Rohan and I feel full."
 
(Evening notation) "Eowyn talked all day about the special hospital she's set up in Ithilien. She takes on dangerous patients that other healers fear to tackle. She's really enthusiastic about her work, but couldn't talk about it before on account of Legolas's feelings, of course. She says Ithilien makes the perfect setting--serene and healing, but also isolated, and the tumbled landscape made it easy to find a crag to wall off against escape while still giving the inmates a view--with several fences between the view and any cliff-brinks, mind you, for some of her patients are 'jumpers', as she puts it.
 
"Anyway, she has staffed her hospital entirely with army medics--healers with some muscle to them, who know their way around a fight. But then she hand-picks them for compassion and patience--they must not forget that these patients don't exactly have a choice in all their choices, if you follow me. Eowyn gets a lot of grief over this stance of hers, because with the East opened up, King Elessar has corralled some real evildoers that he and Eowyn between them have judged to have had their brains rearranged in a major way by Sauron--not all, not even most of the villains that Gondor has pulled down, but enough of the worst to make people angry--they don't want healing, they want punishment! But King Elessar says that the main thing's to stop the evildoing any way that works, and with the least possible suffering for the best results.
 
"Eowyn says that she has managed to return a number of these ex-monsters to a normal life (though they've had to change their names and move to new communities) though most are long-term projects. She even got into a huge row with her brother, she says, because she insists that, knowing what she knows now, she could have straightened out Grima Wormtongue hisself--he couldn't have turned on Saruman like he did, she says, ashamed of murdering Lotho and all, if he hadn't a corner of his heart still salvageable.
 
"You know one thing I've wondered all my life, Papa? What if Wormtongue and Lotho had been friends? You know, landed themselves in the same boat, so to speak, both starting out proud and wicked fools, lured in by promises of power, only to find themselves ensorceled and enslaved to the same master. Papa, you told me how the slaves of Sauron or Saruman always bickered among themselves and kept each other down and weak unless united against their masters' enemies. But what if Wormtongue and Lotho didn't bicker like they were supposed to? I can't think why Saruman would order Lotho murdered unless he posed a threat--maybe the threat was something growing between Lotho and Wormtongue that could've snapped Saruman's hold on them both? We'll never know now, of course--our archers saw to that. I have often wondered, though, what might have happened if my namesake's will had been followed instead, with Wormtongue allowed to stay on in the Shire and heal. That other Frodo knew a thing or two about ensorcelment and slavery on his own count, after all."
 
"November 13, 1451– I saw my first horse-herd today! I did not expect it to be anything special. I mean, I've seen horses and ponies all my life. But it couldn't be more different--an entire village, nay a city of horses, all on the move, all that rippling muscle surging like a hot river encased in velvet-shimmery fur. It's funny, but I never thought of how the things we make for horses break up the lines of them, the flow of their forms, if you take my meaning--saddles and bridles and all the other tack interrupt the smoothness of a horse, and the only time we see them without all that is through the slats of a stall or a fence, or roped up, or up too close to really see them proper. Seeing horses running around wild--well, it's like night and day. And the sound! No thunder resounds like the pounding of a hundred horses' hooves at once! The ground shook with it. And my heart shook, too.
 
(Evening notation) "We got to talking over dinner, late into the night. I'm going to regret staying up and writing all this down, but it seems important and I want to put it in ink while I've still got it fresh in my head. It all started because I asked Eowyn if she thought Smeagol had ever had any hope of healing, like my namesake thought, or had that all been wishful thinking, like you said, Papa. She gave it some thought, and then concluded that Smeagol must have had hope, if Gandalf thought so--preferably as far away from the ring as possible. But with the ring right under his nose? Not likely, though she said that Smeagol's affection for my namesake--such as it was--came as close as anything could to turning the tide. She figured Smeagol would probably be a lot like poppy fiends she's treated--best off if kept as far away from their obsession as possible.
 
"Poppy-fiends? You're probably asking same as I did--it does sound weird, doesn't it? Well, it seems there was nothing Sauron couldn't pervert in his day, given a chance. The Dark Lord bred a ghostly white version of our bright little field-flowers that gives off a gum with strange effects on people. It intoxicates them, Eowyn says, more than the strongest brandy you can imagine. Even that has its uses--Eowyn has used the gum on surgery patients to good effect, making them sleep so deep they didn't even know she cut into them, like Legolas's song did for me when he stitched me up. And she used poppy-gum on those darts she hit Legolas with when he went out of control. After all, if Sauron can twist good things to bad use, why can't she do the reverse? But if you use that stuff on the same person too often--and for some people that can be once or twice--and if you're not real careful about the amount and the circumstances, they get to like it so much that they can't imagine any happiness without it.
 
"Sauron used to use it to control people--made them accept the most horrible circumstances without rebelling till he used them up, or made them obey any kind of order as a condition of getting more poppy gum. So help me, Eowyn actually told me that she's known women to trade their babies for more gum! And it does other things, like in some forms it causes people to dream awake--to see or believe the most intensely beautiful things, or terrible nightmarish things, till they can't think straight. You never know if you're going to get the dream or the nightmare, but the first's so enticing that people will gamble on the nightmares to try and get the dream, over and over again. Eowyn says Sauron found all that confusion useful--he'd get people so scrambled they'd believe whatever he'd tell them, even on a one-shot deal where he didn't turn them into fiends. Oh, he had a lot of uses for his flower!
 
"Anyway, as you can imagine, poppy-gum's a real problem in the East. But it's starting to cause problems in Gondor as well. Soldiers stationed in Harad think they're offered nothing more than a new way to get drunk, and so they wind up snared, especially if they're battle-weary or homesick or otherwise wide open to bad influences. Eowyn says that when poppy-fiends first come to her they can seem like the most peaceable people in the world--sleepy, amiable, smiling all the time--nothing upsets them. But take the gum away from them and they turn into raging maniacs--they will stop at absolutely nothing to get some more, unless and until she can break its hold on them.
 
"You want to know what's really scary? Eowyn fears that, on a smaller scale, pipeweed might affect some folks the same way, especially among Men. Not to the same extreme, but if you've got an entire country giving up smoking all at once, who knows what might happen? It's never been done before. That's why she's going to stay on in Rohan for awhile, after Merry delivers the bad news."

  "November 15, 1451--Billie-Lass has been antsy and full of oats ever since we saw that herd of wild horses yesterday. I think they put some ideas into her head. Today we went riding down the road, minding our own business, when that fool pony took it into her to take off in a gallop on her own initiative. To tell the truth, I was so surprised and pleased to see her so frisky that I let her get away with it for a little bit, till my bedroll went flying off behind us and I had to rein her in and go back for it. I tell you, Papa, if she'd of been a dog she'd of wagged her tail."
 
(Evening notation) "We have reached Helm's Deep; I am writing indoors for the first time since September, nestled in the cushions of a real, bona fide bed, after a bath with hot water and--get this--soap imported all the way from Brandy Hall! And boy oh boy, I am way too tired to take a tour of this place tonight, I don't care how important it is in the history books! Even Eowyn wants to go to bed, and she's been bubbling all over with excitement to show us the sights in one of her native country's most important monuments. Two, if you count the Glittering Caves of Aglarond. But right now all I want to see is...well, I don't want to see anything. I want to blow out the lamp and just revel in the feel of clean skin on clean sheets, and then sink so deep into this mattress that none of the aches and pains of travel can find me."
 
(Scrawled-in afterthought) "I wonder if that's what poppy gum feels like?"
 
"November 16, 1451--Well, Eowyn gave us the tour. Mama, you should have come this way, if nothing more than to see the sculptures of men as tall as towers carved right into the cliff! Eowyn showed us the spot where King Elessar (back when he was Aragorn) stumbled out of weariness and Gimli stood over him defending him till he could get back to his feet. Merry told me that's because Strider'd gone without sleep for days running after him and Uncle Pippin, and then Merry didn't say much after that. Eowyn showed us where the orcs broke into the culvert and Gimli made his stand, and also where a catapult took out a section of battlement (you can see the seams in a different color mortar where the Rohirrim repaired it) and then she showed us the corner where Legolas ran out of arrows and had to fight with nothing but his knife. I mean, you read it all to me out of the Red Book, all of the other Frodo's careful notes from interviewing his friends, but it's much more real this time, walking in the actual place, feeling the same stones cold beneath my feet--especially since I've met Legolas and Gimli and can picture them doing all those things.
 
"To tell the honest truth, I'd had a little trouble picturing elves fighting, before--all the ones I'd met on our family trip seemed kind of, well, drifty, like mist, miles above all that sweaty, gritty war-stuff. And the Red Book doesn't actually say as much about elves fighting as it does some others. But after seeing Legolas in a murderous mood, I can picture the battle more vividly than I ever have in my life.
 
"What a pity Mama didn't let us come this way before! I suppose I can see her point, not wanting to dwell on battlefields and fortresses if she can help it. Even so, for better or for worse, and begging your pardon, I'm not like Mama. Having fought myself, now, I agree with Eowyn--it's better to prepare yourself, to know what it's about."
 
(Evening notation) "Over supper I asked Eowyn about her embroidered chemise, which she wore again today. She smiled (a little self-consciously, I thought) and said that embroidery makes good therapy--you can get a lot out of your system by stabbing your story into the cloth. She has taught the craft to mighty warriors, broken on war and sent to her hospital, to good effect."
 
"November 17, 1451--Dwarf-friends of Gimli's gave us a tour of the Glittering Caves of Aglarond. Oh, Mama, you really should have let us come this way before! Some parts are like walking inside gigantic jewels, all the dome around you sparkling with crystals. Sometimes you pass through forests of stone in delicate colors melting into each other, spires and pillars and upside-down spires, too, reaching down at you from the ceiling like fangs. Some parts ripple like the grain of wood and shape themselves in arches or tunnels as smooth as tree limbs growing from trunks. Oh, but I felt the dwarf-blood beating in my heart
 
"Just when I thought my feet could not stand another stony step, the dwarves took us on a boat onto an underground river, which opened into an enormous lake that has never seen the light of day, and the torchlight showed us a rainbow of roof-spires stretching down and dripping, and the light sparkled off of every drop as it fell. The dwarves let down their hooks and brought up blind, pearl-white fish for our supper; I couldn't help but think of Smeagol, you know. This place must have been exactly the sort of thing he went looking for when he burrowed into the Misty Mountains in the first place--looked for, but never found.
 
"And then finally, on the other shore, we saw the curtain of stone that Gimli had smashed through to get in to Legolas's workshop. Amazing! A lamp behind the curtain glowed through its translucence, glimmering on milky bits of rainbow that shifted color as you moved, like sparks of magic embedded in the stone. And then you come to the shattered part and it breaks your heart. But the story doesn't end there. The dwarves have gathered up all the pieces, in all the different colors, and have been fitting them together into artwork on the facing wall--images of Legolas and Gimli to tell the story of what happened here, so that in after years viewers will end the tour with the reminder of something greater than beauty of the eye or treasures of the earth. As we watched, an artist already began to shape out a willow-tree."
 
(Evening notation) "I lie here in bed, on these wonderful soft cushions, almost at peace, almost perfect, except for the ache of so much walking. And I can't help but think about poppy gum--they don't feel any pain at all who use it, not if Eowyn can cut a poisoned limb off a soldier and he couldn't care less while in that deepest sleep. Lying on these pillows must be like lying on rocks by comparison to that. Some of them smoke it, some of them eat it, some of them poke holes in their veins somehow and pour a tincture of it right into their blood--and it matters so much to them that they don't mind wounding themselves again and again for more. Eowyn told me about it when I asked, but now she says I'm asking too many questions--what do I need to know this for, anyway? I don't know. But I just keep wondering what waking dream can so stir the heart that a mother would trade her children to see more?"
 
"November 18, 1451– We left Helm's Deep this morning, with an escort of Rohirrim to provide the King's Sister with a suitable entourage. These men have so many ways of wearing the fur on their faces--full beards, braided or fluttering free, trimmed beards in different shapes and sizes, moustaches without beards, beards without moustaches, sideburns, or shaven altogether. We hobbits must get our lack of face-fur from Mirglin's side of the family, along with our green thumbs. Of course Legolas did say something about beards just taking too long for elves to grow for most to bother with them. Didn't you say, Papa, that Cirdan had a beard? I wonder--if a hobbit could live an extra century or two, would he start to grow whiskers? I mentioned this to Merry. He said that if Treebeard had told his story in his own words instead of Gandalf's we'd be sitting in that glade outside of Treegarth till we all had beards. Eowyn laughed and said she doubted it."
 
(Evening notation) "Eowyn got all moody about her coming meeting with her brother, who does not altogether understand her work. She says it's not all tea and sympathy, her treatment for her patients, not like what her critics think at all. And it's not about blaming other people for your mistakes. She says her therapy brings out everything you never wanted to face and rubs your nose in it--as nicely as possible, in ways you're most likely to accept, but not cheating, not shying away from anything. It can hurt more than any torture the enemies of her patients could devise. Whereas she has watched madmen walk laughing to their own executions, feeling no pain--why do people think that's more revenge than forcing someone to see the truth? She says she can't do anything with the ones Sauron ruined until they look squarely at the exact point when they agreed to surrender their will to the blowfly in the first place. All else follows unmaking that decision. Like the decision to try poppy-gum, perhaps. I keep thinking about that. Can a person try it just once, out of curiosity? After all, she gave it to Legolas. But she knew exactly what she was doing, and besides, he's an elf, not a mortal, and further besides he did not seem one bit happy about it, no sir, not at all. There's a lot I don't know here."
 
"November 19, 1451–I may be off-base, but I keep wondering about Mirglin and Roin. Correct me if I'm wrong, Papa, but didn't you say that when elves and dwarves die they come back in a future generation? Unless they've been bad, of course. Well, what about these two? Have they ever come back? I know the whole business had to be kept secret from Sauron, but maybe they had their memories taken, just like Gandalf did. But it had to go farther than that--nobody could risk them meeting and marrying again, because Sauron couldn't be allowed to consider the possibility of elf and dwarf marrying and having a child. Yet it seems cruel to keep them apart, too. They could only have some other kind of relationship. Well, kinship wouldn't work, obviously, so that leaves friendship. What if--and this is admittedly way out there--what if one of the pair wound up born in the other sex? It wouldn't be fair to change Roin, because then he (or she, rather) wouldn't travel much abroad--dwarves jealously guard the safety of their wives--and wouldn't run into Mirglin ever, for friendship or anything else. It would have to be Mirglin that changed. And what if--bear with me, Papa--they got granted the boon of getting to aid their descendants in the work for which they had been made? Admittedly all this is just tales spun from cloud-wool, as you'd say. But Papa, when the willow-draughts changed him, Legolas's eyes looked exactly like beryls."
 
(Evening notation) "I can't sleep. The ground feels hard and stony after just a couple nights in a bed. Three times I have almost asked Eowyn for a sleeping draught, but I don't dare. It's foolish, really--missing one or two night's sleep won't kill me. And why did I just write 'don't dare'? What's to dare? Because what I'm really thinking about isn't sleeping draughts at all. It's those darts. I keep thinking about creeping out of my blankets and rummaging into her pack until I find those darts and try what the prick of one would do. Just one; it took three to take down Legolas, after all. What must it feel like? What intoxication? What waking sleep? And Papa, what visions? You hold by dreams, don't you, Papa?"
 
"November 20, 1451–Boy, am I exhausted! I stayed up all night talking to Eowyn. Do you know, Papa, I actually found myself starting to sneak over to her pack, when suddenly it reminded me of one of your stories in the Red Book. Remember that part where Uncle Pippin stole the palantir? Gandalf told him that if he ever felt such itchy fingers again to come to him--there were cures for such things. And then I shivered all over, realizing that Sauron messed with poppies same as he messed with the palantirs, and I had to be feeling the same thing that tripped up Uncle Pippin years ago. Miserable blowfly can't make any new traps anymore, but he can try and talk me into stumbling into one of the old traps he left behind! And knowing this, Papa, I still burned with the most maddening curiosity about those darts!
 
"A long time I sat in the dark, wrestling with myself. I wanted to wake Eowyn and talk to her, but I felt too proud, too ashamed, too I don't know what. Finally I decided that if she's really my friend it's time I believed in that friendship enough to rely on it before pride and shame betrayed me. So I woke her, and we talked. She did not complain about me disturbing her sleep, nor did she hold me in contempt when I told her why.
 
"She did answer all my questions about poppy-gum. She told me that her patients never lose their consciences, not really--they just can't reach them anymore. It's like someone with a broken spine who remembers how to walk, and longs to walk, and even needs to walk, but can't send the message to his feet to save his life. They only lead pain-free lives on the surface--deep down they are all in agony! They know every single rotten thing they've ever done in their enslavement. And then they use more poppy gum to try and kill the pain of all they did to get more poppy gum.
 
"But what really got to me was when Eowyn described what poppy gum does to families. The woman who cried day and night for the baby she sold, the man who tried to jump off a tower for missing the wife he'd abandoned, the other man whose poppy-visions kept showing him the face of the father he'd killed for gold. When I heard that I thought of you and Mama and all my brothers and sisters, and my curiosity just melted away with the night, as the sun rose over us. But wow, Papa! For the length of that one long, miserable night, I knew exactly how it must feel to have a ring calling my name."
 
(Evening notation) "Long, long, long, long day! Eowyn would not let me lay down whenever we rested the ponies, but put her chainmail back on and made me do sword practice all over again, no matter how tired she felt, herself. Said it was good for me--that and the icy bath Merry subjected me to when I came back soaked in sweat. I suppose they're right--heaven knows I won't have trouble sleeping tonight! I'd better not--tomorrow we reach Edoras.
 
"This will be the first time in ages that I've had an actual king to deal with, and this time I'm not just a child, introduced and just as quickly dismissed. How do you manage, Papa? I wish you were here to talk about it. Of course I suppose it helped your case that you traveled for months with a king before you even knew what he was (did you really suspect Strider of being a brigand? I laugh every time I think about that!) And maybe if I just keep reminding myself that King Eomer is Eowyn's brother and probably all right underneath the crown and all, that I won't make a gibbering fool of myself. Right now, though, picturing all of that fine court in furs and brocades, I just hope to heaven that the clothes I laundered in a brook will dry over the coals tonight without smelling too much like smoke in the morning."

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