In Mordor Where the Shadows Are
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 15, Part 86
From the Deeps
(February 10, 1452)
Frodo and Bergil strolled along the beach together in the keen salt air. The sand felt both rough and soft to the hobbit's soles, very different from desert sand. As Bergil promised, it helped to scour away the itchy detritus of his freshly-healed wound. "I am so glad, Bergil, to get about with both feet solid on the ground again. Do you know, that cursed crutch gave me a blister?"
"I do not doubt it," Bergil said.
"Here's another one." Frodo bent to pick up a soggy fragment of paper. "Surely she must have known that they'd wash ashore."
"What did you expect?" Bergil asked.
"Not that Mattie would deliver my letter to the King, I suppose, not once I knew that she'd read it. But I had kind of hoped she might stash it away somewhere."
Frodo gazed out over the water, but no trail, of course, remained from yesterday's ship. The waves seemed to mock him with slow and hissing laughter. "Why indeed?"
They moved on down the beach, stepping over driftwood recognizable as chunks of ships lost over the years; some bore what could have been gouges from claws, and some looked chewed by teeth. The ocean air chilled the lungs to breathe, but tasted fresher than the village reek. After some silence Bergil cleared his throat and said, "I believe I owe it to your father, Frodo, to address an awkward matter."
Waves hushed down upon the sand several times before Frodo finally said, "Yes?"
"Concerning your failure to return home last night..." the ranger said, and left the rest unsaid, looking at the hobbit.
"I sent you a message about that." Frodo bent to pick up another piece of his letter to the King, conveniently hiding his face in the process. "It got too dark to venture home, and a storm raged, besides. You wouldn't want me to walk the streets after sunset a second time, would you?"
"No, but I would like to know how a messenger could make it in well before sunset and not you, a few doors down. I may be terrible at arithmetic, Frodo, but I am not a fool."
"I was lame; I could not go so fast." He went to pick up another fragment, but it turned out to be bone, not paper, so he tossed it aside.
"I have seen how you could fly on your crutches when you wanted to." Frodo halted, and then started walking again, a little faster, his eyes very, very busy in their search for letter-bits. Bergil pressed on. "Frodo, if you must be bad, you must at least learn how to protect yourself from..."
"I was not bad! Well, not too bad. Well...okay, maybe a little. I, uh, I learned some things, and..."
"You learned some things?" Bergil caught himself smirking despite his best efforts. "Oh, I just bet!"
"But not too much! Just, you know, about kissing, and, uh, stuff." He tried to kick away sand fleas, but they kept swarming back about his ankles.
"And uh stuff? Riiiiiight."
"But not bad! Really! I asked questions, you know, about how people...that is, how parents, uh...but I didn't come right out and put it to the test! No sirree, I know I'm not supposed to do that, certainly not yet." They walked further down the beach, Bergil watching Frodo and Frodo studiously not watching Bergil. "Alright, so I came close. I admit that, I wanted to, um...everything, but I caught myself in time, honest I did, I told her, I told Aloe that if we went any further I'd have to marry her, and, and, and..." Suddenly Frodo's face crumpled up like he'd cry.
Alarmed, Bergil stopped him. "Frodo, what is it?"
In a raw voice, he said, "She didn't understand! She looked at me all puzzled, and she asked, 'What's marry, pet?'" With clenched fists he cried, "What on earth has Sauron done to these people, Bergil? How could she have never heard of marriage?"
Bergil put a hand on Frodo's shoulder. "I am afraid that marriage ran contrary to Sauron's purposes. You must understand. Marriage would have made strong units of potential resistance. Sauron needed people to completely depend on him--otherwise they would never have put up with so much oppression." Bergil resumed walking, nudging the hobbit to join him. "He also wished to shuffle his gamepieces at will, with no inconvenient attachments to hamper him. Besides, children raised too well, in stable homes, are harder to exploit--that also ran afoul of his desires."
"I just...I suddenly lost all interest in Aloe after she said that."
"In Aloe herself, or in..."
"I spent the night sleeping on a stinky pile of blankets up on her table, where the bugs wouldn't get me," said Frodo, as though Bergil hadn't spoken. "She wouldn't speak a word to me in the morning and offered me no breakfast." He turned big eyes to the man. "Did I hurt her?"
"Probably not as much as...Frodo, what is wrong?"
The hobbit's face had paled and clenched in pain. "He's back," he whispered. "His voice, just now, gradually increased to where I can distinguish it from my own thoughts. I do not believe he intended that. His voice...and images"
"And what did he speak of?"
Color flushed back into Frodo's face. "Mattie."
"Mm hmm," said Bergil. "Come, continue walking; the exercise will do you good." Frodo picked up a bit of driftwood and batted at beach debris as they strolled. "Do you see it now, what Sauron wants for you? I suppose he told you that Mattie would understand about marriage."
"Something like that. He shows me pictures of my home, Bag End, with Mattie there, cooking food, raising a family, laughing about old memories of shared adventures--it all seems so real. How can Sauron even picture something like that?" Then his face hardened. "Yet the Ring showed my father Mordor in bloom."
"Sauron need not picture anything. He but draws from your own mind the image of your longing, and stitches together a piece of this, a piece of that, to create whatever would lure you to his desired end. But Frodo, it would do you even more harm to marry Mattie than to lose your virtue to the Mayor of Seaside--that, at least, would be a mistake which you could walk away from--if you protect yourself from those afflictions which attend..."
"No, no, no! I don't want to make mistakes and then just walk away--that could make a whole wagonload full of new mistakes. That could, I mean, good heavens, man, the harm that that could do!" Vivid memories of little May flashed through his mind, so deserving of love, so vulnerable to having her whole life ripped apart by the likes of...
...the likes of Mattie.
Suddenly the post-rider seemed to embody to him everything ugly about Mordor. He shuddered and felt half-sick.
"What now, Frodo?" For the hobbit had slowed to a halt once more.
"Itís Sauron again. I got upset by what you're talking about and all, and, well...well, he's offering me something to soothe my nerves."
Bergil burst out laughing. "That two bit hustler! He must grab at every straw he can, mustn't he? He just never gives up!"
"Unfortunately, that's the problem. He never does give up." Frodo tried in vain to swat a whole cloud of sand-fleas away from his bare feet, without much success.
"But take heart at least in this, my friend. It took him longer than ever to rebuild his strength to torment you."
"You do have a point, b--WHOA! What's that?" Frodo hardly felt Bergil grip his shoulders at the sight of a magnificent, shimmering blue creature leaping far out to sea, as sinuous as a twining vine, encloaked in an iridescent gossamer of wings transformed to giant fins. In one quick, graceful swerve, it swallowed up a seabird and sank back down again. But soon it crested the waves once more, twice more, seemingly for the sheer joy of moving, in great sprays of water and seafoam lace, revealing a flash of jewel-encrusted belly.
In a strained voice Bergil said, "Slowly back away from the beach, Frodo. It sees quick movements better than slow ones, though its eyes gaze far." Walking backwards in sand is harder than it looks, but at least it gave Frodo a chance to take a good, long look at the sea serpent, so different from the tentacle'd thing that had nearly scuttled his voyage here. He took in the blue so rich that to see it was to breathe it up like sky, only better than sky and depth and even the star-strewn heavens that couldn't imitate the sparkling of those distant scales, that shudder of light on dark like...
"Hunh!" Bergil had smacked him so sharply on the back that he toppled to his knees. "Why'd you have to do that for?" Frodo cried.
"You had stopped breathing. It is not a good thing to gaze upon a dragon, whether of land, sea, fire, or air. Please tell me that you never looked into its eyes!"
"I didn't. There are dragons of sea? I thought there were just dragons, one kind, period."
"This is no time to educate you on distinctions between monsters." Bergil's voice shook as he spoke. He jerked the hobbit back to his feet. "Do not stop now."
"It is just so beautiful..."
"Of course it is beautiful! Morgoth shaped dragons to lure the foolish off the path of good sense! Oh no...I think it has seen us!"
The creature twisted in the water, beating upon it for a moment with those rainbow-flashing wings, revealing again its panoply of jewels, turning its face slowly towards the beach with a golden, glorious, softly-eyelashed gaze...
But the hobbit stood there mesmerized. When Bergil jerked his hood down over his eyes Frodo cried out in pain; he'd have pushed the hood aside had Bergil not pinned his arms while picking him up and hauling him out of there as fast as the ranger's long legs could move across the thick drifts of sand. Frodo heard the thud of a great body crashing down onto the beach with the last wave; he struggled in the man's arms, freeing a hand to shove the hood away, but Bergil's chest blocked his view as the loveliest voice that ever sang to him called out, "Master? Dearest long-lost Master?"
Bergil's hand clapped over Frodo's mouth before he could reply. "You are not Sauron," the running man gasped. "You are Frodo Gamgee Gardner, son of Samwise, of Bag End. Remember it!"
"Oh my precious Master, I have swept together for you all the treasure of all the ships that I have ever sunk, into one bright pile for you, glimmering in the coolness of the water-filtered light. Come with me and claim it as your right!"
A vivid memory surged through Frodo of walking from Numenor to the mainland underwater, through the seaweed forests and the coral gardens, past volcanoes lurid in the deeps, past the bones of sea-torn ships... He bit Bergil's hand and snarled, "Let go of me! I can do this!" Bergil nearly dropped him as the hobbit fought, but then clasped him tight to his chest and pushed on through the sand though his heart should burst.
Frodo wept and cursed. He swore that he could walk the ocean floor, but Bergil wouldn't listen! He recalled in vivid hues the scattered hoards from sunken vessels he had wandered past, spilled out from bursting chests, pale jewels rolling in the current, investigated by the fishes...
The fishes nibbled at your face and fingers, didn't they, Sauron? You tried to brush them away but they darted around and bit you from behind. They knew dead meat even if you did not.
The lens hurt where Bergil pushed it up against his forehead. Frodo struggled and whimpered, but the man held it firm upon him and would not relent. He carried the hobbit up over jags of rocks beyond the sand. "Hurry," the man panted more to himself than Frodo. "It will dislike to slither far upon dry land."
You had your work cut out for you, Sauron, just holding one bone to another, all that long journey. The current streamed through the holes here and there, the tatters of your flesh, and it felt cold to the point of hurt. You clutched your bones together; you could not always brush the fishes from your face.
"Master, glorious Master so long sundered from your servant, I can see your sword from here--use the sword! Escape from your rebel slave and come to me. I have such treasure..." Frodo's hand tried to claw its way to Sting, but Bergil's elbow blocked him.
You never could repair the beauty you once had, you know; how could you, Sauron? We do not replenish ourselves so well when we cut ourselves off from our Source.
"Beautiful, beautiful treasure, Master! Brilliant as a demon's eye!"
The brilliance lured the fishes, Sauron. They ate one eye!
Frodo screamed in a memory of pain, horrible and intimate pain searing through his head. He jolted free enough to grasp at his face, but instead of a ruined socket he touched his own, intact lid with a sound orb behind it. Then his finger brushed the lens pressed so hard against his brow, and with a sob he remembered his own name. "Frodo. I am Frodo Gamgee, Sam and Rosie's son."
"Frodo?" The hobbit looked up into Bergil's anxious face, horrified to see the scratch marks there. "Are you yourself again?"
"What was I before?" he asked, and then he saw the blood on his own nails and he hid his face in shame, overlapping memories coming back to him at once. "You mean I let him...I let him...?" He shuddered in a fit of chill.
Gently the man carried him, though he heaved for breath so hard that the hobbit felt the beat of the man's ribs against him. Bergil took them safe at last within the village walls. "Think no more of it, Frodo. Such things happen when you gaze into a dragon's eye. Let it pass." Bergil set the hobbit down and sank against a wall with an exhalation of relief, wiping sweat from his clammy brow. "I, too, once did the same. I left my rescuer wounded by a knife, but he mended, praise the Valar!"
With a shuddering breath Frodo said, "Gandalf."
"That had to be Gandalf's voice...I must have been out of my mind."
Bergil looked up at him in wonder. "Gandalf speaks to you, too?"
"Only when I sleep or rave in delirium. That was it wasn't it? The dragon's gaze threw me into some sort of brain fever momentarily?"
"I believe that you thought you were Sauron," Bergil said wearily, and felt at his scoured face. "It must get crowded in your head sometimes."
To Bergil's astonishment, Frodo suddenly leaped up, punching the air with his fist, grinning and shouting, "Of course! Of course! I was a fool not to see it!" He capered and hummed, dancing up and down on his furry feet. "Oh yes! Of course!"
"Frodo?" the man asked, "Are you still fey?"
"Fey? Not at all! Don't you realize? If the sea monsters sleep through the winter like bears, then their rousing means that the ground will shortly thaw for planting!" Then he stopped his dance, clapping his hand to his forehead. "Oh my--that means we must not delay another day in starting the journey to Bristlescrub! Fishenchips and I shall leave tomorrow--I want to return in time to sow. Come, come, my good man--we must pack!"
Bergil stared, exhausted, at the hobbit, and at the round red mark upon his brow that by tomorrow would surely change to bruise. Bergil had no idea, when he signed on for this tour, that service to a hobbit could be so wearing on a full-sized man. He pushed himself back up to his feet and followed Frodo home.