Through Shadows to the Edge of Night
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 14, Part 44
Shepherds on the Eastern Road
(December 13, 1451)
With the dawn yet blushing
in the sky and the air still fresh with dew, Frodo went
out to meet Bergil, whom he understood would await him
just outside the city gate. Frodo bore a sturdy pack upon
his back and a walking-stick in hand, feeling grateful to
the King for not assigning him a local hill-pony--it
would have been too soon. As the gate creaked open a rank
smell wafted in--and there stood Bergil, out of uniform
and grinning, leaning on a crook, amidst a flock of
"I must really love the company of the
Periannath," Bergil said. "For behold! I have
cast aside all rank and title to join you as a
shepherd!" A nanny bleated loudly as though in
confirmation, and they both burst out laughing. "Tar
Elessar decided that Nurn could use the livestock, and
they might as well come with us."
Frodo smiled and shook his head. "I just hope you
know more about herding than I do--vegetables I
understand, but potatoes aren't in the habit of wandering
too far from the garden, and when they do they're rather
slow about it."
"All the children in Ithilien take a turn at herding
goats up and down the steep hillsides. I came to it a
little later than most, but I know the way of it." Frodo noted that the man still wore a small crescent patch--Ithilien's symbol--on his shoulder, but so did many from that land, when they went abroad.
As they struck out for the east he winked at the hobbit
and said, "Where do you think I learned how to lead
men?" The goats trotted alongside them agreeably
enough, bleating softly now and then, their bells ringing
around their necks. It felt splendid to Frodo to feel the
good earth beneath his toes again after days of treading
on stone, and to hear the din of the waking city soften
slowly in the distance as they walked away.
A couple of stout he-goats carried supplies on their
backs (including his precious store of paper and a brand
new block of ink.) For a moment Frodo's heart rose,
recapturing the mood of picnics with his brothers and sisters that
started out much like this, with Billie-Lass similarly
laden. Then he remembered, and sadness infused the cheer.
"They're all good, sturdy beasts," he remarked,
petting a furry back. "Quite as plump as my
pony," he said, and bit his lip.
"Not surprising, since the nannies are all
pregnant--they should deliver in the spring. Then the
Nurnings will have fresh milk and cheese, and more
goats to start herds all around."
"Not to mention plenty of manure to improve their
Bergil wrinkled his nose. "I had not thought of
"No, no--it's a good thing. Trust me. Gardeners have
to see the value in everything. Fruit and flowers and the
good, sweet corn all spring from the same stuff that
gentlefolk wipe off their feet. All things have their
Bergil turned grave, gazing ahead to the dark range
before them. "Not in Mordor," he said.
"Are you so sure?"
"Oh come, now, Frodo! Did you not hear me yesterday?
And your father has seen Mordor--has he told you
"Oh, he told me plenty, all right, but he didn't
exactly cross the desert with gardening in mind. Seen it?
Yes indeed, and smelled and tasted it, and heard its
cracking stones, and felt it nearly unto death! Papa
hasn't left his children ignorant of Mordor--although
half of Gondor seems to think he did. Even so, Papa holds
enough hope in the land to send me there."
"Perhaps." Emotions troubled the Ranger's brow,
now that he had actually set his feet to the journey that
he chose, but then he forced a smile. "In any case I
see the King's wisdom in sending to a far land for the
Little People, who never seem to lose hope no matter what
darkness they may face."
"Enough of darkness, my friend!" Frodo waved
out before them. "See how the sun shines across the
plain and melts the frost away? And while it's not the
green meads of spring that stretch before us, the winter
weeds are good enough for goats--see how happily they
graze! I'll wager that they'll make a fine living off of
the selfsame thorns that my father used to curse."
Bergil saw the hobbit's glance return to the pack
animals, and remembered the story of the picnics.
"By the way, Frodo--what did you do with that lock
of Billie-Lass's mane?"
"Oh, I made a cord for this." He drew May's
magnifying glass from within his shirt, where it dangled
from the braided horsehair around his neck. To his
surprise Bergil burst out laughing.
"Oh, now that impresses me! I am supposed to escort
a hobbit named Frodo into Mordor while he bears a
circular talisman around his neck! What kind of luck do
you suppose that might bring us?"
"Talis..." Frodo's hand clutched the lens
involuntarily. "How did you know that it's
Bergil's jaw dropped. "It is? But I was
joking!" Then, with widened eyes the man asked,
"What, precisely, is this adventure about, Frodo son
"Nothing more than it appears, I assure you!"
Frodo said hastily, then explained about the mother-spell
and the lens's history.
Bergil listened intently as they walked to the pace of
the goats and the plain slowly changed around them,
sloping towards the Anduin. At the end of the tale he
nodded. "Interesting, that the love in your sister's
gift has already saved your life once, beyond the spell
originally laid upon it. And now you bind it to you--over
your heart, no less--with a cord from the mane of a
creature who also loved you, who gave her life to save
yours. All this, with a talisman whose gift it is to magnify.
You might well accumulate far more power than you
realize, Frodo, in that 'child's toy'."
At the word "power" a shiver ran through
Frodo's skin. He could almost feel his hungry
"blowfly" clinging to him, quivering to
attention. No! he thought. You're not touching
this! It is mine--it is beyond you. Even at your
mightiest love was always beyond you!
Bergil went over to one of the pack-goats and dug about
in a saddle-bag. "Speaking of those who love
you...ah, here! This came in at the last minute, but in
all the chaos of rounding up the goats, I nearly forgot
it." He handed a packet of parchment to Frodo.
"A letter from Papa!" Frodo exclaimed.
"Count yourself lucky that I intercepted it at the
gate. Otherwise it would probably have reached your room
about an hour after you had gone, and then have gotten
sent back out again to your destination--some twenty days
hence by marching, slower for us on account of the
"Oh Bergil--how can I begin to thank you?"
"You still owe me a meal," he said with a
smile. "I have heard legends of the culinary magic of
your father, and cannot help but wonder..."
"I'm a terrible cook!" Frodo exclaimed. "I
couldn't possibly...oh botheration! I can't lie to you,
Bergil--I know my way around a kitchen." Frodo
sighed and laughed. "Oh very well! Tonight I shall
cook our dinner. But you must take the next turn after
"Agreed!" Bergil shook Frodo's hand on it.
"Turn and turn about it is." He grinned as he
shifted his pack upon his back. "I have much hope
for the road ahead of us, Frodo. Had you asked me a year
ago how I might feel should the King decide my duty lay
in Mordor, I would have recoiled in horror. But pitching
my fortunes in with yours, little friend, wherever they
might lead, I feel good...I actually feel good."