Through Shadows to the Edge of Night
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 33, Part 63
(January 15, 1452)
Frodo woke up snug in a hammock swaying to the gentle rhythm of Bergil’s snoring a little to the right and slightly overhead. What a luxury--for both of them to sleep at once the whole night through! The rocking of the ship seemed a good deal friendlier--motherly, even--than last night when he’d resorted to the spicy-root to settle a seasick tummy. Which meant, of course, that spicy-root would flavor today’s victuals, since the rules demanded that he share. Not that he had any objections--at least he didn’t have to cook!
But he had more on his mind than breakfast at this hour. The first blue light just barely shone through the little porthole in his cabin, illuminating a half-circle of Bergil’s hammock-shrouded hip while the rest of the circle glowed on the boards behind him; all else lay in darkness, punctuated here and there by half-glimpsed gleams of metal or glass, difficult to identify. Frodo wished to see the dawn spread out across the river. Kicking off the blankets, he stretched out his toes till they felt the deck’s wood in the dark. He dressed by feel, shivering a little till he got some wool about him, and then slowly opened the door, careful lest the creak wake Bergil up.
He found a great bulk blocking his way, about chest-high. Puzzled, he started to climb over its quilted surface when it yelped and leaped to its feet so fast it threw him against the bulkhead with a ringing blow. The captain stood there, disheveled and panting, knives in either hand.
“You!” the man cried, obviously confused. “What didja think...”
“Excuse me,” said Bergil coming up behind Frodo, “But what is going on?”
Frodo said, “I haven’t any idea! I just came up for a sniff of morning air and a glimpse of dawn, when all of a sudden...”
“I meant ye no harm, hobbit!” said the Captain. “Just lookin’ after yer safety. I spent the night sleepin' at the threshhold here, lest any of the men get ideas about yer money.”
Frodo eyed him, yet discerned nothing but sincerity. At last he let out a breath and said, “I am touched. Thank you.”
“No thanks about it,” the man muttered, blushing as he gathered up his bedding. “Ya paid me to get ye from Riverborn to the Sea of Nurnen alive and in one piece, and I deliver whatever I take pay for. I’m an honest man, Gardner.”
“I never doubted it,” said Frodo, giving him a friendly cuff on the shoulder as the man stooped for a pillow. The Captain offered a tentative, bristle-jawed grin in return.
“By yer leave, sir, I’ll be attending to my duties, now.”
“By all means,” said Frodo distractedly, moving to the prow in fascination, for the sun had begun to rise. “Hello Arien,” he breathed as the dawn incandesced across the sky and spread a shimmering red carpet before their ship. The splendor smote him twice as hard for its contrast to the wretched town they’d left behind. He heard Bergil come up beside him. “Oh, the colors!” Frodo exclaimed, almost inaudibly. “There, that is the same hue as coral, the living stone imported from the sunwarmed oceans of the south. And over there--apricots blush like that. And that--that would be the yellow of aspen-leaves in the autumn of the year. Soft upon the gilded clouds lies the same color as those roses the Cottons planted on the day of my mother’s birth. While there--there I see a line of turquoise--if turquoise came as crystalline as diamonds--and above it floats the rich violet-blue of Queen Arwen’s eyes, sparkling full of stars!”
‘Tis a marvel, is it not?” said Bergil. “Nowhere in Middle Earth do you see sunrises and sunsets as spectacular as here in Mordor.”
“Odd, isn’t it? I mean all things considered.”
“Not entirely. Lord Faramir, scholar that he is, once told me that the smokes of Mt. Orodruin’s spawn cause this wonder, that tiny specks in the air, so fine you cannot see them, reflect the fullest colors of the sun just at her morning and her evening angles.”
“See?” Frodo said quietly. “I told you that everything has some good purpose, if only you can find it--even in Mordor.”
Bergil smiled, and leaned to the hobbit’s ear. “Just between you and me, in hours such as this, I can believe it.”
Frodo nodded and the two stood sharing a silence between them more eloquent than conversation, as the crewmen rose to chores, while the fragrance of good food cooking wafted up from below, and the spreading light revealed the shore they glided by. The hobbit felt strangely moved by this most hated of all lands. Sauron could make the mountains writhe up in agony, but he could not destroy that beauty inherent in the very shape of mountains. He could torment the living things along the way till they grew wizened and twisted, defending themselves with thorns the length of knives, but he could not deprive them of their own harsh loveliness. He could foul the air with smokes, but not stop the smokes from turning into sunrises and sunsets that stole the breath away.
What makes you think I ever wanted ugliness?
“Don’t ruin my morning, Sauron,” Frodo muttered under his breath. “Not today.” It bothered him that ever since his fever Sauron had found an avenue to talk to him directly.
What makes you think I ever wanted to ruin anything? Do you think I like to wallow in filth like a mongrel Shire dog?
“I’d find more use in a dog--even when they shove muddy paws up on your shoulder and pant foul breath in your face, they mean well. And even the ones who bite think they’re defending something, wrongly or not.”
And did I have nothing to defend? And did I not mean well?
“I can forgive a dog much because he knows no better. But one of the greatest of the Maiar should never have made such a hash of things.”
THE OTHERS MADE A “HASH OF THINGS!” NOT ME--NEVER ME! Sauron’s wrath struck Frodo like a lightning-bolt that reverberated through him so that the world went black. I wanted to heal all the damage that I caused in Morgoth’s service--I meant every word of my vow, whatever slanders the Ainur speak against me--but they would not aid me! Indeed, they hindered me at every step. They kept bogging down my work in ridiculous little details--they never saw the grander scope. Mordor would have bloomed eventually--I would have demanded that it bloom!--but first I had to crush my enemies, as any gardener crushes worms that threaten what he grows. Everything I did had its purpose--I caused nothing that I did not use. Why can no one UNDERSTAND that?
Bergil picked him up from the deck, but Frodo hardly cared, shouting, “By ‘little details’ you mean lives, don’t you? Leave me alone, you monster--you have no idea what good is, anymore!” Then suddenly he noticed his position in Bergil’s arms as the man looked on him in shock and grief and crewmen all around them stared. “I’m sorry, Bergil--have I been talking to myself?” To his surprise his voice came out shaky.
“Aye,” said Bergil, his eyes wide, “and convulsing besides.”
“I did what?” Frodo tried to get to his feet but the man held him firm.
“You suffered a seizure,” said Bergil, carrying the horrified hobbit back towards their cabin.
They could hear the Captain shouting “Back to work, sailors! There’s nothing here to see...hey, on yer feet, Jo! We’ve got a ship to sail.”
“I am all right,” Frodo said, though a strange exhaustion suffused him. “You can put me down, Bergil.”
“You are not all right! You have not been right since the fever.”
But before Bergil could bundle him into the cabin they heard the Captain crying, “Jo? Jo!” Then a wail of foul words tore from the Captain’s throat as they turned to see him fall to his knees beside a limp and glazed-eyed sailor, wrenching the man up by the shirt as if he could bully him back to life. “Shelob take ye, Jo, ya miserable son o' shame! I told ye the poppy gum'd kill ye! It always does, ya fool, ya cursed low-down scum of a fool!” Tears scalded the hardened face as he raged, hurling the corpse back down against the planks. Frodo heard the men murmur the word “overdose” and his heart sank with a realization. Stunned, everybody watched the Captain stand and stagger back, wiping his eyes on his sleeve before growling for the sailmaster to sew a shroud; then in a cracking roar he shouted at everyone to get back to work, shoving the nearest sailor bodily back to his bench.
Frodo clutched Bergil’s shirt. “He did it.”
“Who? What are you talking about? The poor man obviously...”
“Sauron. He stole the strength of his nearest slave to strike out at me like that.” Then seeing Bergil’s blank look, he said, “I shall explain everything over breakfast--no, after breakfast, in our cabin; this is not something that I would want the men to hear.” Bergil continued to frown, looking more dubious by the moment. “I am not mad, Bergil. I do think I will lie down, for I...I am a little shaky, still, but I am not mad, nor scarred in the brain as you seem to think.”
“I will agree that you need rest,” Bergil said. He ducked into the cabin and settled the hobbit into the lower hammock. “As for your explanation, I will give you a fair hearing, but if you do not satisfy me, I shall have the ship’s leech declare you incompetent and order this vessel turned around. You need to see him anyway.”
“You can’t do that!” Frodo gripped his arm.
Gently Bergil dislodged the fingers and said, “Did your own father not take over leadership of his mission when Frodo Baggins became too ill to order his own path?”
“But Papa didn’t end it! He went on, and my namesake with him--he had important things to accomplish.”
“And so do you--once you have received healing. The King will afford you nothing less than the best, in the Houses of Healing, for you stand high in his favor.”
“He wouldn’t let me come back! It must not come to that--and it won’t. Trust me, Bergil. When you hear the full tale you will understand.”
Bergil stood over him a moment, staring down on him with troubled gaze, then said, “Rest well, Little Master,” and left him there to drown in a sudden flood of sleep.