In Mordor Where the Shadows Are
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 20, Part 91
Letter With Pressed Flowers
At this point in the letter the margins of the pages filled to bursting
with sketches of herbs and flowers never seen by any in the Shire save
for Mayor Gamgee, and he recalled only a few--dimly--none of them in
bloom. Leaves and tendrils and the occasional thorn overflowed the
margins and poked in among the words, which had to bend around them.
Many of the blooms seemed strange and prickly--nothing you could slip
into a buttonhole or a maiden's hand. Yet even Sam could see the beauty
there, captured by his son's deft pen. (Indeed, Frodo's artistic
ability had blossomed like the flowers themselves, nourished daily by
attention and exercise.)
Still other herbs seemed so armorless and fair that Sam wondered that
the Dark Lord had ever overlooked them; these were the sort Sam found,
dried and delicately transparent, inserted in the letter. For Frodo did
not leave everything to the imagination. Pressed flowers and petals
clung between the pages, leaving traces of pigment on the paper, gold
and pink and pale grey-green, with dusts of yellow pollen. And their
scent lingered on as well, sweet and perfumy, or herbal and medicinal,
or musky and exotic, but overall good, in their own peculiar way. Sam
laid aside a flattened spray of violet bells to continue reading his
February 15, 1452--"Beebee took me rambling from dawn's first light
until the brink of night, teaching me every herb, grass, tree, kaktush,
vine, flower, shrub, and fungus that sprouts, creeps, towers, twines,
or dances in the wind, by scent, by texture, by shape, by taste, and
even by color as described to her by her loremistress before her. She
has unlocked for me a treasure-trove of seeds, grains, beans, nuts,
fruits, rinds, capsules, pods, pollens, petals, stamens, buds, pads,
leaves, stalks, tendrils, spines, thorns, fibers, straws, roots,
rhizomes, tubers, bulbs, nodules, saps, juices, gums, galls, pulps, and
resins. I feel so crammed with herblore that my skull might as well be
a salad bowl!
"In the midst of her lessons Beebee argues with herself, though
sometimes she thinks that she argues with me. Now and then her voice
catches when she explains her craft; I think that if she could cry, she
would. One minute she makes plans for what she shall do at Seaside, all
quite matter-of-factly, telling what she intends to do with certain
algaes that she hopes to seek in the tidepools about the Sea of Nurnen.
The next minute, if I respond just as matter-of-factly, she shrills at
me for assuming that she would do any such thing, that she has no
intention of ever leaving Bristlescrub and the surrounding country for
as long as she lives.
"In between such altercations she asks a thousand questions about
Bergil. What is he like now? Does he currently go shaven or unshaven?
How is his career? How are his parents? Do the scars on his chest ever
pull? Hasn't he said anything at all about a girlfriend? How she can
squeeze all this in with the absolute flood of information about herbs
is beyond me, but she manages.
"Those algaes, by the way, are an interesting lot. She says that they
eat poison--not a surprising development in this land, but certainly
useful. And digesting it, they break it down to harmless elements. I
have never seen their like, and neither has she, but she has memorized
everything taught by the crone before her, repeated to herself to fill
up her hours in the dark.
"What I have
seen, though, is the white poppy of Sauron. Finally. We came across it
in full bloom, in the course of the day's rambling. It is actually
quite beautiful, in a haunted sort of way, with huge gauzy petals that
ripple in every breeze. Beebee says not to despise it completely--not
even Sauron can make something wholly evil. With its aid they perform
surgeries in these parts that we wouldn't dare attempt back home. She
felt at the pips beneath the petals when we found it, but said it was
too soon to cut them for their gum. I asked her if the seeds were still
good for making poppyseed cakes, or if Sauron had poisoned those, too.
She laughed and said yes, they made fine garnish for cakes and bread.
"Forgive me; I have not yet described Bristlescrub to you, and already
it is time to leave. But, as I said yesterday, I was ill; I didn't get
around town much. Not that they have much town to get around. Just a
few families in mud brick huts, huddled behind a thorn fence, with a
well and a goat enclosure. The goats are a sickly lot; inbred, I
expect. They could use an infusion of new blood.
"They also have some fields, hidden in a box canyon that you don't see
until you practically fall into it, but down there life grows green and
lush, and a little stream trickles even in the winter. They don't build
down there because it floods in summer, but they have planted curving
rows of the toughest, meanest, thorniest shrubs you ever saw, to slow
the floods and catch the fertile effluvia, and so the water trickles
deep into the soil. My, but you learn a new trick every day, as you've
always told me.
"I can see how Sauron would have overlooked this village completely.
From a distance you don't even know that the thorn fence is anything
but natural growth; in fact, in places, it consists entirely of a tall
and impassible kaktush hedge. I knew it! Such a hedge works well to
keep out the predators of Mordor, better than a wall that the worst of
the beasts can scale. I asked Beebee about it, and she says that Kitty
never took man nor goat in the streets of Bristescrub, though she's
taken plenty in the field.
"If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go do something that I have not
enjoyed for far too long. I am going to go out with Fishenchips, and
lay on the roof of this blocklike house, and stare up at the stars."
February 16, 1452--"Last night I had one of your Mordor-dreams, Papa.
That sounds strange, because here I am in Mordor as it is--you would
think there would be no need. But the desert looked different; I think
it was more in the worst part, around Mt. Orodruin (which in my dream
still stood, and dominated the landscape as it did of old) and it
seemed like nothing grew at all. Smoke blackened the sky overhead just
like you'd always told us, but you didn't tell me how just a little
light came through, in a dirty brown twilight all day long. Anyway, I
walked with this robust hobbit of middle years; I kept thinking I had
met him before somewhere, but couldn't place it. He had a round and
kindly face of respectable cast, but with just a bit of the imp about
it, and he looked like he'd been on the road awhile himself; he had
lost all of the buttons on his weskit, for one thing. Also he wore
Sting, not me. I'm giving you a description, and I think you can
guess who it is, but I don't dare say for sure, if you understand me.
"We ran into rough terrain, just like you've described, but I came to
it in good shape and had little difficulty scrambling up and down the
craters and such, though I must say it did make me puff. My companion
did fine, as well. But then he stopped me and pointed, saying, "Go to
them; they need you." I looked to where he pointed, and I saw you! You,
Papa--young. And my namesake, too, I think--a dark-haired hobbit, maybe
handsome once, now gaunt and very pale of face through all the dirt.
You lay unconscious with your arms around him, protecting him, and both
of you shivered in your sleep. And oh, you both looked so thin and
worn, right to the verge of death! I saw the scabs upon your lips so
dry I felt your thirst like my own, Papa. Well, what could I do but go
over there and wrap you both in my arms? I pulled the two of you up
into my lap, I rocked you like babies. My tears splashed down on you
and left spots and tracks in the dirt on you. But before I woke I felt
you stop shivering, and I saw you smile in your sleep.
"Well, today we hit the road. Beebee has decided to travel with us, at
least to help Seaside with the planting. Whether she will actually meet
with Bergil remains to be seen. So to speak. I never before pictured
one of the Big Folk looking so fragile and, well, small,
but she strikes me sometimes as if one rough word could crumple her.
Yet I know that can't be true. She'd have to be tougher than
dragon-hide to have survived everything she has and still come out on
"But she is scared, Papa, and in a funny kind of way that I
wouldn't have expected. I mean, all these years she assumed that Bergil
had rejected her, and you'd think she'd had time to get comfortable
with the idea. But the thought that it just might not be true has her
all knotted up inside; the risk of suffering the same blow twice, I
suppose, when she didn't know how she'd survived it the first time.
"Sad to say, the flowers are all dying and dropping already. It's a
sorry sight that we find as we go, the withered blooms, and the
bug-eaten buds that never got to bloom in the first place. Even the
wild things have yielded to Sauron over time, never showing their
beauty for long, going into hiding as fast as may be. Yet Beebee says
that they've left the country full of seeds, lost in the sand where you
can't see, waiting for another rain."
February 17, 1452--"Fishenchips speaks to me as little as possible, and
looks at me not at all. I can't help but notice anymore, as time goes
by. I want to talk things out with him, if that would help, but I don't
know where to begin. I don't know what to do with this difference in
privilege between us--I can't go back in time and give him a happy
"What makes it even harder is that Beebee is right--I'm starting to
pick up random images from their minds. I think. Maybe. Mostly it's
incomprehensible flashes--momentary smells, tastes, textures, sudden
sounds, and from Fishenchips a glimpse of board, a flash of light on
water, the curling sight of a descending whip. I think I might get
visual flashes from Beebee's earlier memories, too. I distinctly
remember something about plump female hands gently pulling an herb up
by the roots--did she used to be plump?
"I don't like this. I find it all quite unsettling and frankly rather useless."
February 18, 1452--"Nightmares last night. In them I wandered lost down
the alleys of Seaside. I suddenly saw eyes in the walls! Glazed,
pinprick-pupiled eyes, or sometimes the eyes of mindless chickens. As
much of a start as that gave me, I felt still more grief, even horror,
to watch them, two by two, blink out or fade back into wall. Because
every time they did the alleyways grew darker, and I felt more lost and
more lost still, and then increasingly certain that something stalked
me, perhaps a warg."
"When I woke up, Fishenchips snored nearby, and Beebee watched (in a
manner of speaking) much to my surprise and consternation. She stood,
her head turning slightly this way and that, listening, her nostrils
flaring as she sniffed the wind, her arms spread slightly as though she
might feel something in a change of wind rippling through her wide
desert sleeves. When I stirred she smiled and dropped her arms. 'You
are both tired still,' she told me. 'You both needed sleep.'
"And then she turned as though to face the dawn. 'Tell me of its
colors,' she said. But when I started to speak she hushed me. Then I
knew what she meant. I stood up on a rock so I could see out over the
thorn fence that we had built for ourselves, and I stared at the dawn,
and I took it in with my whole being, and I thought about it just as
hard as I could, holding the magnifying lens. I made a deliberate
effort to remember the Light of Valinor and how it lay behind the veils
of Middle Earth and still shone somewhat in the sun. When I did that
she gasped and clasped my hand, and I knew that something of what I saw
could reach her.
"What am I, Papa? Who am I is not really the question--I know I make
that myself, as I go along. But what? What am I becoming? What are all
these forces doing to me? May's lens, and Sauron, and Gandalf, and
Ulmo, and that strange, strange hobbit of my dreams, and the Light of
Valinor, and some nagging memory of a feast that maybe I dreamed but
cannot really place, and the poisoned water of a maddened sprite, and
the other power of the healing mud, and mingled rites of elf, dwarf,
and ent that never mingled before, and dragon-spells, and heady evil
flowers, and sacred desert smoke, and especially the land Herself, the
half-crazed, suffering, lovely land. What will I become before the