In Mordor Where the Shadows Are
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 3, Part 74
At Home in Mordor
(January 19, 1452)
Eyes bulging with the effort, Frodo tried to rip the lens from his neck, but the horsehair cord held. Bergil grabbed his hands in one big human one and said, "Don't! Don't. Don't, dear friend." Frodo stared at him in the dimness of that cold, stone room where all the sunlight bled away, minute by minute. Bergil sounded so gentle, and Frodo wanted to listen, but he didn't dare.
"It's no use, Bergil!" He squirmed and looked wildly about the room, but saw no escape, only piled luggage on the floor. "If I keep this cursed thing I shall go as mad as Legolas--did did did I tell you about Legolas?" He tried to pull his hands back, but Bergil made soothing sounds and held him tight, firelight warm upon his face as the kindling flared and the flames began to lick up the sides of the log. "Oh Bergil--he even attacked Gimli!"
"Easy, easy--yes, you told me all about Legolas, poor elf. But the curse cannot lie upon the glass itself, so do not try to rip it from you--that is what he wants. Think, Frodo--what is the one thing that Sauron cannot use?"
"And in what spirit did your sister give this talisman to you?"
Frodo stopped struggling and burst into tears. It seemed like all he could do today--endure one storm of tears after another.
"Whatever curse there may be, it lies between you and your sister's gift, like a second lens, filtering all that you see." Bergil relaxed his grip and left Frodo holding the magnifying glass before him in a trembling hand. Bergil ran a finger around the jeweled rim. "No evil can touch this, little Master, not with all the love invested in it. Think of your sister May, and of Billie-Lass, too, who even now still binds the lens to you." He closed Frodo's hand over it. "Think of them and regain mastery over what you bear."
"No, no, not mastery--Sauron can use mastery. Just love. Just a little hobbit lassie wanting to give her brother the most precious thing she owned. And a fat little pony who...who...oh Bergil!" He still sobbed into Bergil's shoulder when Fishenchips came in. For a moment the man stared at the two of them, peculiar expressions warring in his face. Then he cleared his throat loudly till they looked up.
"I gots th'grub," he said, and dropped the sack beside them.
"Fishenchips--thank heavens!" Bergil jumped to his feet. "I had no idea that the errand would last past nightfall--I did not mean to endanger you."
Fishenchips shrugged. "Not quite nightfall, mate. I got in okay." He gestured at the sack. "Sorry about th'grub. 'Tain't too grand, I'm afraid, but 'tis all as can be got until Aloe divvies up th'cargo i' the morning."
Bergil could not hide how his face fell as he unpacked a loaf of dry, gray bread, a hard and miserly rind of cheese, and a pair of onions that wouldn't come to much once they'd cut the rotten parts out. "'Tis the best that I could do," Fishenchips mumbled. "Oh--and they's these," he said, pulling out four smallish eggs from his pocket. "I s'pose we'll give Master the extra. 'Tain't much to divvy up in one egg."
Frodo perked up a little. "Eggs, onion, grating-cheese, and stale bread for crumbs--I can make something of that. And oil--we have a little flask of oil in the cleaning supplies, as good for the griddle as for keeping leather supple." Bergil sat back on his heels and breathed a sigh of relief as the hobbit got up and immersed himself in the familiar chore of cooking dinner for his company. "How do you divvy up four eggs among three?" the hobbit asked, digging for the oil. "By whipping 'em into a batter--what else?" Frodo even smiled when he brought forth the dwarf-kit from its place in his laundry-sack, where he'd hidden it ever since Mattie tried to make off with it. "No, they have not taken all of our provisions! In here I carry salt and pepper sealed up so tight that not even the flash-flood touched it."
On his way to fetch water, Bergil leaned over to Fishenchips and whispered, "You are a genius!"
"I am?" Shock gave way to a surprised grin.
Frodo crumbled the bread into the eggs, diced the onion and folded it in, grated the cheese-rind into the mess (the dwarf-kit held a splendid grater) and added just the right touch of salt and pepper. Soon three savory patties sizzled on a griddle in the grate. It seemed like nothing had ever smelled so good as the aroma of onions right then.
Bergil shook his head and laughed out loud. "Is there any circumstance in which a hobbit cannot cook a meal to marvel over?"
"Yes," said Frodo, remembering his father"s tales. "When there is no food at all." He flipped the cakes to crisp their other sides. "Bergil, tell me honestly--just how much of a mess did I make of things back there at the butcher-shop? They all think me mad, now, don't they? They won't listen to anything I say."
"Yes, they will listen," Bergil said gently, as he rummaged through the baggage for plates and mugs, tucking them into his sling as he found them. "The people of Mordor do not rate sanity as highly as in other lands." He chuckled despite himself. "On the other hand, they do tend to heed folks quick to draw sword!"
As I have always maintained...
"Shut up, Sauron," Frodo whispered, eyes tight shut. When he opened them again he found his servants staring at him. Frodo chuckled a little weirdly and said, "I may have no rest, you see, no, no rest, no peace, no privacy...I cannot...Am I mad, Bergil?"
After an awkward hesitation Bergil said, "Mostly no," He laid down the plates on the floor near the fire as they had not yet found a table. "Though you do have your moments." Weariness creased the ranger's face as he said, "Sooner or later Mordor gets to everyone. Do not make much of it. Rest. Recover. Tomorrow you will be yourself." Bergil wrestled a waterskin into position with one arm, bracing it against his cast, and filled each mug in turn, as his master flipped the patties one last time. "Do you know what I believe? I think Sauron stumbled upon your memories of Legolas, your dread of what he must have undergone mingling with your present fear of going mad yourself, and he nudged that fear until it made itself come true, just for the hour. He cannot magnify anything, Frodo--he can only trick you into doing that yourself."
"No privacy," Frodo repeated. "No peace. No rest." He scraped a patty into each plate, then looked around him. "Where did Fishenchips go?"
"I last saw him hauling something upstairs, I believe. Wasn't there some thumping or scraping up there awhile ago?"
Frodo went over to the stairwell. "Hi! Fishenchips! Supper's ready!" Footfalls rumbled down the stairs as the man came running.
The sailor stared, salivating, at the patty that Frodo served him. "Is this a chip?" he asked.
"Not really. Have you never..." Frodo began.
"I always hoped someday to eat fish and chips," he said eagerly. "I've heard rumors, y'see, and it all sounds mighty fine!"
Frodo smiled at him. "You may yet get your chance. Just you wait till I get some 'taters planted, and you'll find out for yourself."
"What's taters, Guv?"
"Po-ta-toes..." As Frodo explained the mysteries of the vegetable, Bergil finished up his meal and went exploring upstairs, lighting candles as he came by them.
"The table's up here," he called down, "along with all the other furnishings, in one room apparently set aside for storage. The second floor divides into four rooms, with all of the third floor taken by one chamber...Hey!" came the shout down the stairwell. "We have baths up here! One in each room--and three rooms have hot water heating in their grates! The top room and two more."
Frodo smiled at Fishenchips. "Your work?"
Fishenchips grinned shyly and ducked his head a little. "Just findin' 'em and fillin' 'em. By the time we finish supper the water should be ready."
Frodo shook his head appreciatively. "You really are a marvel, Mister Fishenchips."
They did not find true bathtubs in the strict sense of the term, but rather metal crates of unknown prior purpose, that some smith had fixed to just enough of a slant to drain from a punched and plugged hole in the bottom. They creaked and groaned a little every time one moved, in a metallic way made strange by all the water that they held. No hobbit in the Shire would have called their right angles and their dented surfaces comfortable. But for one small hobbit very far from home, who had not immersed himself in bathwater in twenty days, it afforded him pleasure enough to sink himself deep into the comforting heat and melt his troubles off of him.
For a long time he just slouched there, feeling his muscles unkink one by one, staring at the faint candle-lit ripples on the dark water. The great round chamber swallowed up the light of candle and hearth; lost in the darkness above, the roof flapped with old cobwebs in the draft from the window-slits. Listlessly Frodo stirred up glimmering ripples with his trailing fingertips. Pretty stuff, but Bergil warned him not to swallow any of the water; you had to take special precautions before drinking it around here.
Suddenly he ducked his whole head down under the surface for a moment and popped back up again with a great exhalation. Then Frodo took the last sliver he had of genuine Brandybuck soap, saved back to celebrate his arrival at his destination, and he scrubbed himself all over, slowly at first, then more frantically, digging into his skin with his nails.
You cannot wash me off, you know.
"Give it a break, Sauron."
Why should I? Your father never did. He would not rest until he cast me down--literally. He went for days on end without sleep, so great was his hatred.
"Haven't you ever wondered why people don't like you?"
Envy, obviously. I figured that one out long ago, hobbit.
Frodo laughed, harshly. "Now why on earth would I envy you? You can't even make yourself a proper body anymore."
Yet yours does you little good, when I have Mattie and you do not.
The soap popped from Frodo's fingers. "Just what exactly is that supposed to mean?"
Oh? Have you not noticed? Ah, but the mists hang thick over the hot springs of the Ephel Duath. Even so, I think your heart knows something that your mind has missed completely--it would torment you to comprehend too much, I fear.
Something in Frodo did know, did in fact remember precisely because the warm and lulling waters reminded him of clues which he hadn't realized that he'd picked up. But he also knew that if he ever articulated that thought fully to himself, he could never feel peace again, knowing her a hopeless slave to the poppy-gum...
Knowing her a hopeless slave...
Oops. You have already guessed, I see. Well, she does not exactly conform to the corpulent standards of what hobbits call feminine beauty, does she? And for an instant Frodo swore he felt a flame-lashed wink in his head, like a burst of pain.
"Ohhhh Sauron, you are beneath contempt!"
Am I? I should think that you would take care not to anger me, knowing what I could do to her if I get upset.
"Her? Who? I don't know what you're talking about." But oh, he did, he did, his heart ached with knowing!
Do you not, even now? Then learn that her last name is merely the alias she took when she ripped the lace from her chemise and traded skirts for pants. Oh, but she so longed to escape her family's reputation, once her father died. I know all of her thoughts intimately, Frodo--including her thoughts of you, though she loves my poppies more. But surely you have heard...yes, here I find the memories...you have heard of Mathilda Greenbanks--the young hobbit girl who rode in amongst the Barrow Downs and never rode back out.
Frodo sank back in the water, stunned. "No peace," Frodo whispered in the dark barely gilded by candlelight. "No privacy. No rest."