In Mordor Where the Shadows Are
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 9, Part 80
Chambers of Winter Sun
(February 6, 1452)
Frodo chose to walk alone. Mayor Aloe had told him about structures that he ought to check out, just beyond the south margin of the fields. The southern curve of the Mountains of Shadow loomed up before him, blue with distance, handsome in their own craggy way. Clouds chased across a sky more vast than any he had seen in the close and cozy Shire, though he had met their like above the open fields of Rohan; again and again their shadows and the light between played across the plain, now warm, now cold again. The sparse gray brush of Mordor had greened up overnight, and sparkled with raindrops still cupped in their tiny leaves, while dampness enriched the rust and ochre tones of previously dull rock. The sharp, herbal scent of the wet bushes smelled clean and fresh to the hobbit, far from the village reek. The storm of the night before had left the ground slick with mud, but after an initial chill, the clay slip coated Frodo's feet and helped to keep them warm. With his good wool cloak about him and his walking-stick in hand, Frodo was in about as much comfort as he could expect under the circumstances.
For his personal demon had not left him. Sauron seemed in a talkative mood today; for that reason more than any other Frodo chose to walk alone, so that he would not have to constantly mask his responses, nor struggle through the chaos of two conversations at once.
Sauron had started in immediately with the most childishly nasty jibes and snickers, right as Frodo ate breakfast with Mattie that morning, after she'd spent the night in one of the spare rooms. Oh, she had looked so pink and pretty all scrubbed up, even for so skinny a thing, and so heartbreakingly ashamed of her dangerous excess of the day before that he just wanted to fold her in his arms and comfort her forever. But Sauron wouldn't let him think straight! The best he could do was urge seconds and thirds on the poor little waif, with Bergil and Fishenchips always too near for a private word. If Frodo had any chance at all to reveal his knowledge of her true nature, he lost it to distraction.
And then everything fell apart the minute Mattie learned that Frodo had left her pipe behind in the alley, when he'd picked her up and carried her home. Nothing could have braced him for the change in her face as she screamed foul words at him, then dashed out the door to go look for it. He had not grown up accustomed to such blasts; he had felt so faint that Bergil asked if he needed to sit down. She did not return. He had to hear from other sources that Mattie rode out on her circuit of the surrounding villages without saying goodbye.
"To Mordor with her," Frodo muttered, then realized just exactly what he'd said.
Indeed--you had better leave her to me.
"I don't recall asking your opinion, Sauron." He saw giant, ancient bones jutting from a rock cliff-face ahead of him, just as Aloe had described to him, and so he started to climb for the low-point between hills just to the left of it.
Who else are you going to ask about affairs of the heart? The willfully celibate Bergil? Or the thoroughly confused Fishenchips? Perhaps the Mayor of Seaside might oblige you--she would like that, you know.
"I certainly wouldn't ask you," he said, puffing with the climb, his breath in little clouds.
And why not? I know much more about these matters than you could possibly absorb--and I have had thousands of years to perfect my knowledge. Would you care to know how to break an elf?
"Not particularly, but I have the feeling that you'll tell me anyway." The way grew so steep that he had to use his hands--but he took great care where he placed them amid the rocks! Little things with big stingers scuttled away from him to other nooks.
Elves actually turn more readily into orcs than humankind--a flaw in that syrupy-sweet design of theirs. You see, their Maker made marital fidelity intrinsic to their nature; the fool thought that he could forestall much trouble that way. So all you have to do to shatter them...
"I definitely do not want to hear this!" Frodo slipped and skittered down the slope for one hair-raising instant, then caught himself and started to climb up again.
Very well, then. Frodo felt the fire-lashing of that monstrous wink inside his mind. I shall leave the rest to your imagination. And my, but you do have a fecund imagination...why, my dear hobbit!
Frodo gritted his teeth and tried to think of something else, but the effort defeated itself. So instead, with a whispered supplication to a power beyond Sauron, Frodo let the ideas flow and wear themselves out, leading to an unexpected conclusion.
"I can see why you failed with men, Sauron."
I did NOT entirely fail with men.
"But you did." He climbed up past the steepest part; he could walk the rest without handholds, though the path still rose ahead of him. "You could make them orclike, but not completely orcs. Their creator adapted them to Morgoth's challenge by making them weaker and yet stronger, too--yielding rather than breakable. They succumb more readily to temptation--but then they recover. They are like those who get a little bit sick and then never catch the same disease again." He stopped a moment, saying in wonder, "And I am mostly human in my blood--so that is why Míryave had to marry a Man! From humankind I get the ability to bend rather than to break." He resumed walking. "You may crack me a little, Sauron, but you will find it hard to snap me in two entire."
Yet in the end I had your namesake.
"Yes, like all those human beings that you seduced and yet could not corrupt. You may have had him briefly, but he slipped right through your fingers again. And I am made of the same stuff he was. You have never been able to keep a hobbit long. Even Smeagol guarded a corner of his mind from you."
There is always Mattie, the voice said slyly, and the pain of that thought stopped Frodo like a blow, just left him standing there with a cold wind whipping about his cape.
"Mattie may be sick, she may be a petty thief, but she is not evil!"
Oh really? So you say now. Yet she has already betrayed you.
"Ridiculous! We have no relationship--there is nothing to betray." Yet that in itself hurt to admit, like biting ice with a tooth that holds a secret cavity.
You will soon learn more...
"Enough! I am tired of your innuendos that go nowhere!" He walked furiously, stumbling on overlooked rocks and shoving through the thin and prickly brush, while a nearly unbearable pitch of laughter cackled in his head. "You may do your best to make as much of nothing as you can, Sauron, but the final truth is that you are destroyed and I am not." Yet the snickers did not abate. "And even if you succeed in destroying me, you can do nothing to reinstate yourself--all your poppy-slaves notwithstanding."
Oh really? Are you so sure, my little cockerel?
"Yes, I am sure! If you could hold onto enough of the power that you drain from others, you'd have done by now already." He stomped on, stabbing the mud with his walking-stick. "It must take all you can suck from them just to maintain this halfway state of yours--making lewd whispers from your bodiless poverty because your lust has nowhere to go." The chuckles faltered as Frodo pressed on. "You have fashioned yourself a worse hell than anything Mandos could devise in his halls of judgment--worse than the Outer Darkness itself!"
I can at least crave company, said the icy voice, with no more mirth. And every so often I get it. Would you like me to sample Mattie before you? We are well on the road to that, already. You can stand by and watch, if it amuses you.
"Then you do not have her entirely, do you?" For a blessed interval the voice went silent, and Frodo could again attend to the sound of wind whistling through the desert scrub. He breathed a sigh of relief, thinking he'd had the last word.
No, I do not yet have Mattie entirely. She is not yet dead. If Frodo's grip could have snapped his walking-stick in two, it would have. Now Frodo found himself alone with the sound of the wind indeed.
Desperately the hobbit tried to heed his father's advice, and remember the light of Valinor. After awhile he began to succeed. As he climbed the last stretch before the top, he admired the laciness of the drought-adapted bushes, the way they shimmered in waves of wind--here lived things that Sauron had never commanded, that throve in his despite! He turned back a moment to gaze out over miles and miles of such independent living things, each one framed for admiration by the barrenness around it, so that he could love each individual shrub or weed the more, in a way that had never occurred to him in the abundance of a forest or a Shire glade abloom. He resumed his ascent. A hawk flew overhead, her high and piercing cry too sharp for Shire tastes but perfect here, as she circled in her hunt. Step by step Frodo's heart rose. Soon he came across many odd-shaped plants, fat with stored-up water, covered with needle-fine spines.
It does not love you, Sauron said as Frodo licked blood from his fingertip after testing one of the spines.
"It does not yet know me. For my part, I will not condemn any creature for wearing armor in this frightful land." He watched a wren dart for shelter from the diving hawk, straight into a grove of such plants. "There! You see? It shelters its friends. Hedges of these water-savers could protect the villages of Nurn from predators and fire alike, and make safe haven for the birds we need to keep the insects down."
And what would your father say of such bulbous and monstrous-looking growths? I tell you, Frodo, he hated all of this rabble of the desert--and so should you.
"Ha!" Frodo cried, grinning, for more and more the remembered light of Valinor revealed to him the truth, and he saw beauty in all of these strange forms. "What you are really saying is that you do not want me to value these...what are they called?"
Kaktush, my orcs called them--and they used the word to curse each other. Commonly they would express an intent to ram a kaktush up...what are you looking at?
"Flower buds! They are all preparing to flower--in winter!" He hurried from plant to plant, examining as he went. "Yes--by tomorrow every one of them will bloom! It must have been yesterday's rain as did it."
And then they will be pollinated by bats. Do not look for anything hobbit-pretty here, my little friend.
"In which case those sorts of bats likely drink no blood, and I have no quarrel with them. Normal bats catch all the night vermin that the birds miss by day." He grinned still more. "You really do not want me to cultivate kaktushes, do you? What is it, do they bear fruit that you didn't plant?" When he got no answer, Frodo walked with a livelier step, whistling as he went.
So--is that to be your policy? Do everything opposite of my advice or practice?
"Until a better policy comes along, why not?" Then he crested the ridge and saw the other side, and he gasped for joy. Flowering kaktushes dotted the entire southern slope with blazes of richest crimson, delicate pink, brilliant orange, lemon as pale as winter sun and gold as deep as a dragon's trove. The perfume astonished him, like Valinor's light had become something that he could inhale. "Truly you have failed here, Sauron, for these plants have Ulmo's power locked inside their blades!"
Oh really? Sauron drawled. Then why does too much water kill them?
"Thank you! You have just clued me in on how best to cultivate them." But then Frodo found it difficult to find a path through the kaktushes, and once again Sauron chortled in his head, especially when Frodo had to stop and pick some very painful needles from his arm. But the hobbit did not let this deter him, for he'd caught a glimpse of the structures Mayor Aloe had told him of.
Swiftly now he stumbled down the rock and scree, as the katushes dwindled in number, leaving a clear space where he could finally run to the structures. Soon he reached their level shelf and saw them clearly now: frames of long, low houses, walled and roofed with nothing, apparently, though Frodo thought he glimpsed some clear and sparkling material surviving in jags and crystalline fangs...
"Ow!" he cried, and lifted his foot to find a big sliver of broken glass in it. He hopped over to a rock, pulled the sliver out, and carefully cut a little piece of kaktush, slicing away the prickly skin. As he'd guessed, he found a gel-rich inner surface, good for cleaning the wound. Bergil always said to never leave a wound uncleaned around here. He bound his foot the best he could with his handkerchief, then studied the sliver lying on the rock beside him. "Glass? Do you mean to say that those buildings consisted entirely of windows?" He saw now how the ground within and all around the frames glittered with clear shards.
Indeed, one of my better schemes, to force vegetables to grow even in the winter...
"But that's brilliant!"
He felt a sort of stumble in his mind, then Sauron asked, Are you agreeing with me, hobbit?
"Yes! Absolutely! Only I wouldn't call it forcing vegetables, I'd call it protecting them. Letting in all the sunlight and yet keeping out the wind. Oh, you'd have to carry in water, same as you would a potted plant on the sill, but yes! This is exactly what we need! Sort of like a hot-box, only big enough to walk in." Then he paused a moment, trying to study the structures without rising from his rock, for he knew he dared not step any closer than he had already. "But the heat could build up too hot. There must have been a system of ventilation..."
Quite a good one, actually. A rod footed in a substance that expanded or contracted with heat and cold, so that it would raise a louvre when it got too hot, and lower it again when it cooled.
"And that substance would be...?"
Coldly the Dark Lord replied, You will never learn from me. Look at what the fools did! In celebrating their "liberation", the drunkards shattered every pane of glass! They liberated themselves from food, and they should pay the penalty. The Nurnings all deserve to starve!
"No," Frodo said, though his heart sank. "Nobody deserves that. They destroyed these hot-houses because they thought of them as yours--a place of toil and nothing more. A foolish thing to do, no doubt, but who taught them such folly?"
Frodo got up gingerly, leaning on his stick, and turned to limp back home. "Whatever the make of the vent devices, we can discover it again, knowing where to look." The slope looked steep for a lamed foot, but he gritted his teeth and remembered that his father had climbed worse. "I will send others to clean up the glass and take it to the kilns. We will cast new windows. Next year we shall grow vegetables all year round." But a thought disturbed him as he hobbled home; if Sauron sometimes told the truth, and sometimes did some good, that now made the lies and evil all the harder to catch.