In Mordor Where the Shadows Are
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter Four, Part 75
A Night for Mares
(January 20, 1452)
Frodo woke shivering in the middle of the night, to a room as cold as Nazgul-breath. He opened his eyes to mist curling through the bars of the window-slit high above him, a luminous billow in a shaft of the half-moon’s light. The fire had gone out, and all else lay in darkness.
He got up, paddling across the chilly floor, in the general direction of where he thought he could remember a fireplace. Groping, he found its edges. He located a poker by feel and got down on his hands and knees to stir the ashes. At last he uncovered a coal with a speck of a glow just barely smoldering inside. He reached for the tinderbox on the mantle and nestled tinder all around the coal, laying kindling near at hand. Then he took a deep breath and...
"Don't blow on it!" came a voice from behind.
But he did blow on it, deep from within himself, blew one steady breath so long that he felt himself weakening for lack of air. And the coal came to life, flames radiating all around it, as a sooty lid slowly raised to reveal it as a fiery eye that glared at him with a pupil full of pure nothing!
Frodo sat up in bed so violently that he nearly capsized his cot. Awake for real this time, he saw that the hearth still pulsed with the glow of well-banked living coals; he had simply kicked his blankets off. He looked up at the window-slits. "I'll have to get poles or something to reach the shutters," he said. "It's too drafty in here." He pulled his blankets back up over himself, sighing at their warmth, and tried to settle into sleep once more. He made himself think of warmer seasons, back home in the Shire, drenched in sunlight, rambling over the hillsides with his brothers and sisters and dear ol' Billie-Lass...
...watching the little ones skip down the road ahead, as he strolled at Billie-Lass's side, in a perfect Shire spring with the apple-trees in bloom. They wandered past a green bank with mats of heather at its feet, bees buzzing in the flowers and the perfume as thick and warm as honey in the sun.
He paused and stared while his pony looked on quizzically. "Green banks. Heather at the toe. Mats of heather at the toe. This...this means something." He turned to Billie-Lass. "It also means something that we gave you a girlie-version of a boy's name, doesn't it, Lass?" He nuzzled her big, furry face. But then he saw the poor mare's staring ribs and shoulder-bones... "Billie-Lass, you fool!" Frodo exclaimed, "Have you gone grazing in the Barrow-Downs again?" The pony started to back away from him, ashamed, but he grabbed her by the reins. "No, girl, not that way, not backwards! No--please!" But already she had become skeletal and bone began to fall from bone...
This time when he woke the sweat dripped from him, turning icy in the draft. He sat up a long time, afraid to let himself sleep once more, and then slowly eased himself back down and pulled the blankets over him.
He had nearly fallen asleep again when he heard screams through the floor! He leaped from the cot, sending it clattering behind him. Then he heard Fishenchip's drowsy voice wafting up the stairwell, saying, "Easy mate, easy--'tain't no faceless people here. Look--see? Here, help me light a candle--'tween your hand an' mine we should do all right. There--see? Me mug ain't exackly a thing o' beauty, but at least I gots one." Frodo shuddered, then set his cot back up and piled into it.
Long did he lie abed, on the silken sheets of elvish weave, tossing in a cold so searing that it pained him like a wound, though the elves heaped coverlets on him and the fire roared. But Papa held his hand--that anchored him, that's what kept him from drifting off into the world of Ringwraiths. He wanted to squeeze the hand back, but his fingers felt numb to the point of paralysis.
"Whatever you do, Sam," he heard the wizard say, "Do not let go of his hand!"
"That I won't, sir," his father answered, in a young but determined voice. "Not for the life of me--not if my fingers fall off from frostbite I won't let go." Papa's touch felt so warm--the only warm thing in the world.
"You will come to no harm--it only feels that way. But we shall take turns, Sam, trying to thaw him out--you, me, and Bilbo. His younger cousins, too, if we get too tired, although you seem to affect him better than they do. Interesting..."
"Even if there were no others to take turns, sir, I'd still hold onto Master Frodo--with all the power in me." Frodo felt the fingers tighten.
"I believe you," said the wizard. "I chose well."
Ai, but the cold--the piercing, piercing cold! It drove all other thought away, all memory of anything not ice...except for what radiated from Sam. Frodo could not have not endured without that grip upon him, demanding everything in its love, demanding only that he live. He would have fled. He would have gotten lost.
Frodo heard pacing all around him and smelled a pipe. The gruff old voice said, "Sam...do you have anything you want to tell me?"
"No...well, maybe." He heard the creak of Papa fidgeting on his chair. "It's just a silly thing, really. Just a dream I had, is all."
"Indeed? Let's hear it, then. I have a special interest in dreams."
"I dreamed that I could look right through Master Frodo's shoulder, like he was made of glass or something, glass full of shimmery water. And I saw a shadow--a sharp smudge, if that makes sense, rippling--or maybe swimming, swimming towards his heart. But not making much progress, mind you, like it had to fight for every wriggle. Even so it moved maybe a quarter of an inch as I watched, and I knew it would get there, given time, if nothing stopped it."
Slowly the wizard murmured, "You don't say."
"I do say. To make it even sillier, I dreamed he was my son. Now call me a fool if you want to, but that's my dream."
"Thank you, Sam. You are no fool, but wiser in some things than even I imagined. You may have done your master more good than all the elves in Rivendell."
"Master Frodo?...Do you hear me? It is past noon, and you have a guest."
Frodo tossed and snuggled his cold, exposed shoulder back underneath the blanket. "Oh Papa--don't let go! Please don't let go."
"But let me rest a little while, Papa--I am so dreadfully tired!"
In an anxious voice, deeper than any hobbit's, Bergil replied, "I am not your father, I fear. But I will go tell Leech to give you a bit more time."
"Leech?" Frodo sat up so fast he made his own head spin and blinked at the ranger standing beside him in the round stone chamber. "Here?"
"Yes, here. I sent for him. The ship lays over for four days."
Frodo stopped in the middle of pulling on his shirt. "You sent...you do think me mad."
Bergil sighed and sat on the cot as Frodo got up to look for his brush. "I know not what to think--which is a good time to call in someone wiser than myself." He saw the brush poking out of a pack and handed it to Frodo. "Last night, even after the incident with the goats, you...well, you acted fey, Frodo. You said things that alarmed me. And today I found you late abed, though this is not your custom."
"I had a rough night," Frodo replied, as he found the ewer and basin Bergil had set out for him, now quite cold. "Nightmares." He splashed his face anyway. "You know all about nightmares, I suppose." Bergil made no reply to that, studying the toes of his boots. Frodo dried his face and said into the towel, "I'm fine, Bergil."
"Ohhh yes. I believed you the last time you said that, too."
Frodo smirked despite himself at that, but then grew thoughtful. As he looked for a place to hang the damp cloth, he asked, "Bergil, do you know how the Lady Eowyn passed for a man when she rode with the Rohirrim?"
"I recall that she was young, then, and slender. And the siege of Helm's Deep had forced many a beardless boy into the ranks, from whom she differed little, most of them being of a height with her."
Frodo found a wall-rack and hung his towel there. He studied his reflection in the spotty mirror that Bergil had found and put up for him, and he fingered his hairless chin. Hobbits, of course, had no beards and little height at any age. Mattie did sing tenor, but years of smoking poppy gum might do that.
"Why do you ask?"
Frodo shrugged on his weskit. "No reason."
Voices wafted up through the stairwell as they climbed the long way down. Frodo could not make out the words at first, but as he drew nearer he overheard Leech saying, "It is not so hopeless as all that, Fishenchips. Breakdowns vary by degrees. Some men break like a shattered spine. But if he was able to cook supper, as you say he did last night, no doubt this is more on the level of a cracked rib."
"Cracked," Frodo murmured to himself, smiling. "Now that one was definitely on Legolas's list."
Bergil glanced at him and did not like his smile at all.