In Mordor Where the Shadows Are
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 8, Part 79
A Letter From Home
(February 5, 1452)
At last Frodo got the chance to open his letter from Papa! Thanks to his servants, he nestled in a warm, dry robe and the best chair that they could pad, with his icy feet stretched gratefully towards the hearth. All of his wet things spread upon its stones with a smell of steaming wool and linen mingled with the smoke. He cracked the wax seal and unfurled the pages crackling in his hand.
"January 7, 1452
Mayor Samwise Gamgee
"My but you do pack a lot into your letters, dont you? Great grief, great joy, and great embarrassment, all in one envelope. Im impressed.
"First things first. You have my heartfelt condolences for Billie-Lasses death. I do know what its like to love and lose an animal like that. I guess the King does, too--he never told me about his dog. I feel specially moved that Billie died saving your life. Years and years hence people will see her cairn, and ask about it, and learn her tale all over again. People do not quickly forget such stories, heavens be thanked!
"Second. Your mother loved the green-blue scarf--and yes, you picked exactly the right color for her tastes. She drew it out of the envelope with many an ooh and ah and put it on immediately after holding it up to the light and admiring the embroidery stitch by stitch. She wears it even as I write. She has made sure that every lady in the Shire knows that her son sent it to her all the way from Rohan. She says you dident ought to have bought it, and she is so glad you did!
"Third. Yes, it is much better to scare an opponent away than to fight, if you can manage it, but I think you overplayed your hand just a tiny bit. Remember that you are not dealing with Breelanders, but with men who never heard of hobbits until we toppled the Dark Lord for them (with a lot of help, I might add!) It shocked them so that some of them greatly exaggerate our prowess in battle (battle had little to do with it, actually, on our end of things--it mostly involved a lot of trudging.) I am not surprised that that brigand felt the need to drum up an army to take you on! Listen, Frodo--sometimes the best thing you can do is let people underestimate you. You think I havent held onto my Harfoot accent a-purpose? I like to let all those Fallowhides at the town hall think me a little bit thick and forget what I can do, sos I can out-maneuver them out of nowhere.
"Forth. Im glad you got to chat with ol Strider! Just sos you can see who he is behind the crown. And Im glad to here he watched over you with that stone of his. And sending Bergil for you just in the nick of time--Pippin Took will be so pleased! I always knew Bergil would of growed up to be a man of some account. Ithilien ranger, huh? Makes sense to me. And I must say Ill rest easier at night knowing hes going with you!"
The Ithilien ranger in question knelt by the fire and put on a kettle for tea.
"Fifth: Regarding that little incident at the inn with the floozy. Dident the dwarf-gaffer make any impression on you? Was that what you call staying vigilant? At least you seem properly abashed, and that is all to the good. Thank you for writing to me about this--I know you almost dident. Because theres more going on here than one nights embarrassment, and we need to talk about it.
"Tell the rest of the truth, Son. You were not 'being polite' by buying drinks and letting that woman buy drinks for you. You were getting drunk. And thats exactly what you aimed to do. You know darn well that you could have politely excused yourself from the common room at any time, if for no other reason than the fact that beer works on the bladder. You must of had to go any number of times, from the sound of things, and you could of gone straight from the outhouses to your quarters and nobodyd of thought a thing about it.
"And thats not so surprising, what you did, when you get right down to it. Your young, your away from home for the first time all on your own, you want to try things out and test your limits, so to speak. Sooner or later a young hobbits got to check and see whether some of the things his folks told him would bring trouble really will bring trouble. So now you know.
"Besides, Frodo, I know you better than you might think. Youve got a bit more of an eye for the ladies than most, lad, and you started at an early age, too. (But a human woman? Are you that desperate?) Sure, you got self-control by the bushel barrel, and I respect you all the more for it, knowing how your tempted, but I wouldent be much of a father if I dident notice how you look the maidens up and down and get that yearning in your eye. Seems to me some hidden part of you wanted to see how far the two of you might go if the beer kept flowing--you just dident expect the result to turn out quite so humiliating.
"So why am I bringing all this up, when you and I both would just as soon let the matter rest? Because Sauron does his worst work by coaxing people to lie to themselves--and that is a far more dangerous business than lying to anybody else, because at least when you lie to others you know your doing wrong, and knowledge is half the battle in anything. Think about Gollum--how different he might of been, if only he had sat down one day and stopped calling the ring his 'birthday present', but actually said to himself, 'We stole it, yesss we did, my precious--we killed our bestest friend to steal it!' How long do you think he could of lived with hisself, knowing that, without wanting to change? But the way the ring would get hold of you was by helping you to believe anything you wanted to believe, rather than what was true.
"I know it tried to tell me that if I yanked it off of Frodo B.s neck, I would save him from terrible suffering--and then I could turn all of Mordor into a garden; wouldent that be a fine thing to do? Yes, Frodo, it kept on talking to me after I gave it back in the Tower of the Guard--it never let up the whole time we crossed Mordor. I dident want to go into all the details in the Red Book because the ring made me feel dirty with how it kept offering me lies to tell myself. But if you need to know, I will tell you anything, honest as honest can be--because thats how you defeat Sauron. Im the one who knows.
"Sauron may have had nothing to do with your foolishness that night. Heaven knows you got plenty enough natural foolishness of your own, at your age and in your circumstances. And its normal to not want to write too frankly to your Papa--indeed, it impresses me that you wrote of it at all. But Sauron can work with things he dont cause, same as things he does. Be vigilant!
"See? You dident die of embarrassment, just because I disapproved of what I figured out. Leastways I assume you have not keeled over dead from reading this letter. Instead, I told you some of what embarrasses me, too. I dont expect you to meet my standards every single day--hey, I cant do that, myself! Because no matter what, Frodo, I love you--you cannot tell me one thing that would stop that love. Besides, ninety-nine percent of the time I feel so proud of you Id just about burst my weskit from my heart swelling up--so its good to know your mortal. (For that matter, immortals aint that perfect either--as youve come to learn the hard way.)
"There!" Bergil exclaimed. "Now that's a tea strong enough to stand up and fight back!"
The smell of steeping herbs wafted through the room, along with the scent of the rain that sometimes blew in through the high wall slits. Frodo glanced up at them. "Remind me," he said, "to order shutters for those windows. Surely someone in Mordor knows the art of their making."
"Wood comes dear in these parts," said Bergil, pouring a huge mug of tea, "but I will see what I can do."
"We have sand a-plenty from the beach," Frodo suggested, "and kilns to melt it. Perhaps someone can fashion glass shutters, such as the elves have used." Then Frodo returned to his letter.
"Sixth: Your job. It sounds like youve got everything in hand. Im glad you finally found that foreign ink you fancy--I spose it makes sense for the kind of traveling you do, though it seems like a lot of bother to me, all that mixing as you go. All in all, though, it looks like youve been pretty sensible about your provisioning. But what was all that about spicy pickled carrots? I never tried those. I shall have to talk to Merry about getting me a taste of some, since he trades in them."
Frodo giggled and murmured, "Oh no, Papa--you have no idea what you're getting yourself into!"
The letter continued, "Beyond all the packing and planning and stuff, I sure do think your the right hobbit for the job. But Ive said that before, havent I?"
"Seventh: Valinor. I saved the best for last. And yet what can I say, beyond what a dream! What a frighteningly wonderful dream. I did cry, hearing about old Master Bilbos death, though I felt glad, too, that it would end that way. He was much more to me than a master, you know. And he taught me more than reading--he taught me everything I needed to know to face the wilds beyond the Shire. All those stories folks told me were no use whatsoever turned out mighty useful in the end, after all--they showed me how to screw up my courage to take on anything I had to, if the cause be just. Not just from wanting to be like those heroes, either; they taught me how to find the beauty that keeps you alive even when youve got no food and no water and no sleep. They taught me the meaning of a star in the sky and a change in the wind, and the sheer poetry just in knowing that back home corn still grew and birds still sang. Its things like that as keep your feet moving when you just want to lay right down and die. I hope you never need the old tales quite so much as I did, but I hope I taught you enough of them to see you through even if you do."
Frodo stared at the letter with watering eyes. "The tales that help me the most," he whispered to the page, "are the ones about you, Papa!" He wiped his eyes and read on.
"And it gave me more comfort than you will ever know, to hear of dear Master Frodo finally getting the healing he needed and deserved before the end. You wouldent know, he left before your time, but he was in a bad way before he sailed. He used to wear bulky clothes that hid a lot (he always felt cold, that final year) but those of us as cared for him personal watched him dwindle down to skin and bones. Most Shirefolk dident look closer because they liked to avoid his eyes--he seen too much for their comfort."
"No, no, drink it down--you must. Come on--'tis good for you."
"Beg pardon?" Frodo looked up.
"Sorry, Frodo--I did not address you," Bergil said. "Have no fears--we have everything in hand, here. Go back to your letter, and rest easy, my friend."
Sam's rough script said, "But bless Nienna and all her kind! The Valar know what I always tried to tell him--he was never half so bad as he thought. I was there, I saw him at his worst, and still the good shone through. It's plain as plain from what you say that all of Heaven knows he did his best, and that he had far more best to do than anybody dared to reckon on. It must have been some lingering curse in Frodo B. to think he had to be perfect or else none of it could count.
"But Valinor! What a privilege you have gained, my Son! I admit I felt a little shocked--I wondered if you could handle seeing so much. But if anything could help you fight Sauron's influence, thats it right there. Thats what they gave you that vision for. You got to know everything Sauron doesent have, everything bigger than him--or at least glimpse as much as you can hold. I feel a whole lot better now about your situation.
"Keep that vision, Frodo dear. Never forget what the Valar have entrusted to you, and never let that way of seeing dim from your eyes any more than it has to. That will help you more than Sting and the mithril-coat combined. Even if I still had the Lady's glass to hand on to you, it would not give you so much."
"Sorry Fishenchips. I didn't mean to sob."
The letter went on, "'What they gave you', I said of your dream, but I think I can be a little more specific than that. Gandalf once told me that part of his old job, before putting on a body and coming to Middle Earth in it, was making dreams--and your account of hobbit origins confirms it. I think he himself swung this favor for you--hed be just the one to take that kind of risk. Old Master Bilbo could of told you more on that, if we still had him. I heard once, from an elf, that when Bilbo started to fall asleep more and more, Elrond set him to translating Elvish books on doing things a-purpose in ones dreams, and Gandalf encouraged him in arts unknown to me, but I know they had to do with dreaming. I wonder what became of those books? They werent in what he sent home with Frodo B.
"You know that business I told you about Frodo Baggins getting Nazgul-wounded and us taking care of him in Rivendell? I think sometimes, when Master Bilbo fell asleep by that other Frodos bedside, still holding F.B.s hand, hed fight for him somehow; leastways when Id come in for my shift Id sometimes find him lying in a cold sweat, his head on Frodos pillow but his grip as firm as if awake. We none of us know what Bilbo might of done for us in the War of the Rings, but Ill bet you my last coin that he did something, maybe planted ideas and information here and there in peoples sleep, at Elronds bidding, across the distances--all the while snoozing away in his armchair with none the wiser! That would suit the sly old coot. I think he might even of summoned Boromir to Rivendell, whatever Elronds denials--that verse smacked of Bilbos style. Ive thought it through for years, and I think Elrond had more reason than the kindness of his heart to invite a crusty old hobbit to retire in the Last Homely House. But thats just my opinion--I got no proof.
"I wish hed sent those books on to Bag End with the rest. Id of studied as hard as I could to find out how to be with you in your dreams, Frodo. Id of learned, even if I am not near so sleepy. But at least now I can trust that our good friend Gandalf must be close at hand, doing a better job of watching over you than I ever could. You pay close attention to those dreams of yours, Frodo-Lad! You hear?
"Now Ive got some news of my own. Merry Brandybuck came back, and soon as he greeted his family proper, and settled matters at Brandy Hall and all, he rode out my way. We talked late into the night, and then we wrote some letters together. It looks like we can find a discreet way to legally adopt May!"
"Hooray!" Frodo shouted, leaping to his feet, and the others stared at him a moment, then grinned and went back to what they were doing, as Frodo sat back down, never lifting his eyes from the page.
"For the seven witnesses, we can have Merry and Estella Brandybuck, Pippin and Diamond Took, Fredegar and Molly Bolger, and young Bran Maggot. I trust them implicitly, and nobody else need know. Except we do have to get signed statements from Buttercup Klaefield and Ted Sandyman waiving parental rights, seeing as how their both alive.
"Barliman Butterbur knows where to find Ted Sandyman, he says, though he dont know why Im looking for him and never will--Ted just fixed up a dumbwaiter for the Prancing Pony last week. Ted wont make no fuss, Im sure--he knows hes got no business raising daughters after what he done, and theres those as would make the last of his white hair fall out if he tried.
"We still cant track Miss Klaefield down, though we found some relations that Im pretty sure know her whereabouts exactly. I think they want satisfaction that nobodys going to force her to follow custom and marry the hobbit who got her with child. I keep telling them thats the last thing I want, and these days ol Ted would shake in his breeches at the mere suggestion afore he run the other way. I also told them repeatedly that we want to make sure as few people know Mays parentage as we can possibly manage. But it looks like were getting somewhere with the Klaefields. I think I deserve their trust, all things considered.
"Oh and yeah, ol Merry and me settled accounts as to his plying you with ent draughts and all. He says your really not that tall, nobodyd even notice if they dident look for it. And you really did need help with the blood loss. I tell you, I got much more horrified listening to his account of your battle than from reading your letters! Good heavens but you played it down, my boy! You mentioned some anemia, but you dident make it plain that the orc bled you pure snow white to within an inch of your life! Merry tells me that the sight of you even scairt Legolas. If youd of wanted to drink a gallon of ent draught after that, I wouldent of minded one bit.
"Well, hopefully, thats the worst and over with. Take care, dear one. We missed you at Yule, but we raised a glass in your memory and made the best of the occasion. I caught a nasty fever shortly before Yule, but it passed swiftly and dident keep me from joining in on the festivities, even if I dident feast all that much. I recovered completely, thanks to good cooking and lots of loving care; all here now enjoy the best of health. Your sister Goldilocks has learned to cook near as good a plum pudding as your mother.
"Your sister Ruby brought home a kitten, grey-striped. I aint got much use for cats, but seeing her with the little thing snuggled under her chin might just change my mind.
"Keep on writing your wonderful letters. Shocking, to think that by the time you read this you will be in Mordor! And so strange to think that I can just up and write a letter to you like it was any other address. Do stay safe and whole, my son!
"And your Mama sends you her love, too, and all your brothers and sisters. Not to mention your uncles and aunts who are very proud to have you in the family. But especially your Mama and your Papa. And May wants to know if youve got her magnifying glass kept safe and without any scratches. And to say she loves you worth three thousand kisses. And hurry up and plant a garden and then come home. I know it wont be that quick, but you know how children are.
"Just you take care!"
Frodo sat beside the fire and let the tears stream down his face, the letter pressed tightly to his breast. When Fishenchips moved towards him Bergil stopped the man, whispering, "No, this is good." So Fishenchips went back to helping Mattie keep on walking the circuit of the room, round and round and round, while Bergil rolled up his sleeves to try and cook up as good a supper as if a hobbit made it.