Through Shadows to the Edge of Night
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 11, Part 41
Upon a Wall
"I pulled strings to
get this assignment," Bergil said, as he led Frodo
from the buttery with a fragrant basket full of food
swaying at his side, "for my father is not without
position." Frodo couldn't imagine a nicer winter's
day for a picnic. With his warm cloak wrapped snug about
him, he enjoyed how a brisk wind had broken up the
overcast into mounds of brilliant white clouds sailing
across as rich and blue a sky as ever crowned the world.
"In any case," said Bergil, "all matters
involving relations with Mordor fall under the
jurisdiction of Ithilien, so they would have to send a
Ranger of Lord Faramir's to escort you, whatever they
did--I just wanted it to be me." His quirky smile
reminded Frodo of someone, but he couldn't quite place
Frodo smiled rather wryly, himself. "I'm glad your
family position got you something you wanted. All I ever
got from being the son of the Mayor is extra work."
They walked past hollies thriving where the elves had
planted them, berries bright against the green and glossy
leaves, splashing color against the stone.
"So your father has been stern with you, Frodo son
"Not in any bad way. No--you couldn't ask for a more
loving father. But yes, he's strict, too. He came into
money rather late in life, and never figured that having it gave him--or us--any excuse to stop working." Frodo laughed as
they passed between two stately blue-green firs rising up
from basins of dwarvish stonework. "I think he
halfway expects the family fortune to vanish as quickly
as it came."
"But everyone knows how hard he earned the
inheritance that Frodo of the Nine Fingers bequeathed to
him. No chance stroke of luck filled the coffers of the
Frodo only laughed the more. "That's not how some in
the Shire see it! But even so, my father's deeds are not
mine. I have yet to prove myself."
"I understand," said Bergil. "I have met
with some doubts, myself--though living up to the legend
of Beregond cannot compare to that of Samwise The Brave,
I daresay!" They passed down through a fair district
where all manner of trees and shrubs reached up their
boughs in shapely nakedness, in darkest brown or silver
gray, pale gold or peach or startling winter scarlet.
"Some argued against my appointment to your service, wanting someone
stronger or more seasoned in the perils of the East (though I do have some informal knowledge not upon the record, I will say that.) But
I finally prevailed on the grounds that, of all the
candidates, I had the most experience in dealing with the
Periannath." He laughed, with mischief in his eyes.
"As a tag-along child, I confess, but that still
beat all save my father, and he has other tasks to tend
than guiding a farmer through the perils of Mordor."
The branches cast a lace of shadows on the walls and on
the cobblestones before them. Frodo looked about him and
tried to imagine what the city would have looked like in
his father's day, before the elves had landscaped it. If
the Ancientest People could make these old stones bloom,
then perhaps he could take hope in his own mission.
Bergil said, "But I think he would have gladly taken
this labor from me for himself, had his duties
After walking downhill awhile, they reached the Outer
Wall and began to climb the stairs built into it.
"We both have come to love The Shire," said the
Ranger. "Does that surprise you? My father and I
have read everything we could about your land, and quiz the
riders of the Post, and merchants, too, of Brandybuck
Mercantile. My mother owns a collection of exquisite tiny
teacups crafted far away in Bywater, some with flowers
painted in the glaze."
"Bywater," Frodo said, a little winded.
"That's not far from my home."
Bergil looked back at the hobbit struggling up the steps
designed for longer legs. "Are you all right, Friend
Frodo?" He reached back to offer Frodo help, but
Frodo shook his head.
"Don't worry about me," Frodo said. "I'm
sure this is nothing compared to the stairs of Cirith
Ungol--it'll be good practice for me to climb up by
"Don't be absurd!" Bergil said, and the humor
dropped from his face. "You will not go that
way! Shelob yet lives--never imagine that she would
forget for a moment the scent of the blood of the one who
"Through Poros Pass--you have no cause to seek out
secret and dangerous passageways--not that dangerous."
"I must say that's a relief," Frodo said with a
heartfelt sigh. "Papa's stories about Cirith Ungol
gave me nightmares."
Bergil looked down on him with wonder. "Yet you
would still go that way--knowing what you know? To teach
the growing of vegetables?"
Frodo shrugged. "Vegetables matter as much as magic
rings when you're hungry."
Bergil shook his head, smiling. "Lucky is he who
consorts with the Periannath,"
At the top they reached a stone bench cut into the wall.
Bergil rested his arms upon the battlements, smiling as
the wind tousled his hair. Frodo climbed up onto the
bench to look out, too, onto the wind-shimmering
grasslands mottled with the passage of cloud-shadows and
the bright sunlight between.
"Here, in this very spot," said Bergil, "I
spent the afternoon in the company of one Peregrin Took,
watching the parade of allies come to Gondor's defense
before the siege." Then he winked and said,
"Later he even got me past the walls for a closer
view, against the rules."
"Uncle Pippin!" That's who Frodo knew with the
quirky smile. "They say he was only my age when he
first set out--what was he like in his youth?"
"A scamp," Bergil said, eyes twinkling with the
memories, "But I was hardly better."
"Really? These days he's a librarian and a
"That does not surprise me as much as you might
think--more than half the trouble he got into came of
always wanting to know a little bit more than was good
for him." Bergil spread soft cheese on bread for
them both. "The first time I met him Pippin smelled
like beer and gave me a smile as big and warm as the
sun--and then proceeded to pepper me with every question
imaginable (after we got through my unfortunate threat to
stand him on his head, of course!) I felt flattered--at
my age no one had ever looked to me before as a font of
information. But then I had never before met anyone so
unacquainted with Gondor and her woes."
Bergil's face clouded over a memory. "Ah but what a
beam of joy he brought, in Gondor's darkest days! That
halfling taught me everything I know about laughing in
the face of dole, and the courage to be found in
frivolity." He passed Frodo some pickled fish, after
trying some himself. "My father tells me that in the
wounded-wagon, on the way back from the Battle of the
Morannon, Pippin could hardly breathe, having suffered a
crushed ribcage that would have killed a man--but he
spent the entire journey whispering jokes and merry tales
for Dad to speak out loud to the rest, so that he kept
everyone laughing who still could." Bergil smiled
sadly. "That was the only wagon where none of the
"Uncle Pippin never told me that part. He's told me
a hundred times at least, though, about saving your
father from the troll--he makes a funny story of it, if
you can believe it, about how he felt so darn spankin'
proud of hisself to have nailed the troll right in the
heart, only to realize, ohhhh dang!--it was
falling right on top of him! He claims that he thought
for sure he'd died."
"Nearly," Bergil said, "but being a perian
and as tough as a little nut, he got back on his feet
just in time for the feast at the Field of Cormallen. My
but the Periannath do love feasts--and how do you like
the fare I've brought you?"
"Delicious! Is this some kind of goat cheese? What
herbs are in it?"
"Yes on the goat cheese; as for the herbs, I have no
idea," Bergil admitted. "But tell me--are the
"Pippin's stories. He told one where halflings threw
a long and ridiculous party, that concluded, after a
slightly rude speech, with a halfling using the One Ring
for a prank!" Bergil's eyes seemed to light with an
almost angry glee. "And then he told another story
of the Ringbearer cavorting in a tavern with the same
ring, which apparently meant nothing more to his people
than a toy." His teeth showed in his grin
alarmingly. "It would seem that your kind made a
joke of our dread enemy, the Dark Lord, at every
For one brief instance Frodo felt uncomfortable; then he
said, quite brightly, "Why yes! Every word is
true!" They both laughed and something evil left
their presence--for the moment. But Frodo realized for
the first time that his personal "blowfly"
might try to affect others in his vicinity besides
himself. "I'll bet Sauron hated that," he said,
with more authority than he'd care to admit.
"No doubt, Frodo. No doubt."
Glancing sidelong at Bergil, Frodo said, "I
understand, though, that Sauron never actually died. He
just sort of...shrunk. Have you heard any rumors to that
effect--you know, evidence of his activity in
Bergil shrugged. "Nothing I can be sure of. Some go
mad, in rather nasty ways. Some find themselves beset
with the most outrageous temptations. If he does remain,
it is not with any power left, save for what he borrows
from ourselves." Bergil straightened and looked more
serious, as if just beginning to wonder what had happened
a minute ago. "I suppose it is something one must
think about in the places we shall go. But I have heard
no such rumors for a year or so at the least."
"Not since Legolas returned from Nurn," Frodo
said, and stared Bergil in the eye.
"You do not think...? No. Legolas is but an elf, and
that land is perilous for the mind and soul of his kind
in these latter days."
Frodo almost disputed him. He wanted to tell Bergil
everything he didn't merely think, but knew. He wanted
someone else to understand the burden upon him. But after
the exchange about hobbit mockery, he didn't feel like
rushing in and trusting him quite yet. What, really, did
Frodo know about Bergil, except that he had once been a
high-spirited boy, and the son of a good man? I know
that he respects all living things, he thought,
remembering Billie-Lass's cairn, and that should count
for something. But a few weeks on his own among
strangers had taught him lessons in wariness, so instead
he asked Bergil to tell him what perils the man knew of
in the lands ahead of them. Lord Curudag had a point; he
might as well prepare himself for the worst.
Feral wargs--Frodo'd heard of them already. Masterless
orcs--of course, he'd had experience with those, himself,
though Bergil assured him that many orcs did not survive
the fall of Sauron, having nothing left of their original
souls to sustain themselves alone. Trolls, too, wandered
without direction--well, he'd figured as much. Shelob
still lived, naturally, and poisons lingered in the
Morgul Vale, but he saw no reason he might ever have to
go that way. Rumor had it that balrogs might live in the
caverns of that tumbled ruin that used to be Mt. Doom,
but as you'd expect, nobody ever went anywhere near to
find out for certain, because fumaroles erupted every so
often, or sent off scalding vapors and suffocating fumes.
That was another thing he'd have to watch
for--earthquakes happened often in the Land of Shadow,
and sometimes you got weathers of foul smokes when frail
folk gasped themselves to death. Very well, then--all
lands had dangerous weathers, one way or another.
But Bergil listed horrors, too, that Frodo had never
imagined. Giant snakes that spit a corrosive venom--Lord
Curudag had lost an eye to one of those. Scorpions the
size of dinner-plates. Flying things that fed on blood.
Insubstantial pools of darkness that could drive a person
mad who wandered into one. And some things there were
that looked like men, and pleasant enough to regard, but
Sauron had sucked the souls from them long ago, so that
the empty shells knew only hunger and the last orders of
their master before his fall. The waters of the Sea of
Nurnen, too, held fell things moving in its depths, so
that none dare cross by boat but rather hugged the shore, and some of these could
breathe air when they had to, and come sliding up the
stones on a rare damp night, leaving a trail of slime the
next day to lead to their last victim's remains. But the
greatest perils did not fit any category--half-glimpsed
horrors lurking in the shadows, escapees from
experiments, or perhaps Sauron's mistakes, things that
scratched at windows at night, or stole children by day
who'd strayed too far from home, or left behind some
mangled body of a man lying in the road come dawn.
The sun had begun to set before they finished their
conversation, and the cold of night overtook them; Frodo
could not believe they had begun their chat in laughter.
He acted nonchalant in Bergil's presence, but then he had
to climb dark stairs to his room all alone, his teeth
chattering, afraid to look in shadows. He jumped at small
noises and felt relieved at last to close the door behind
him. Then he wondered if anything could climb (or perhaps
fly) to his window, so he shuttered it tightly and hoped
the bolt could hold against things stronger than himself.
He swallowed back a shriek when a servant knocked on his
door to bring in a supper that he barely tasted when he
sat down to eat.
The hardest thing of all, though, was to put himself to
bed and to blow the final candle out, then lie there in
the dark while monstrous images romped inside his head.
All his memories of shivering in his bed after scary
stories could not compare--because then, deep down, he
knew that all those monsters lived far, far away, if
indeed they existed at all. But these...! For the longest
time, it seemed, he could not get to sleep, but only
stared up into nothing, moaning in the dark, "Oh
dear heavens--where will I ever find the courage to do
what I must do?" That night Frodo didn't feel the
least bit like the son of Samwise the Brave.