I Will Not Say the Day is Done
Nor Bid the Stars Farewell
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 3, Part 100
A Trip to the Beach
(February 26, 1452)
Frodo had never tasted such delicious bacon in his life--hickory-smoked rashers from the wild boars of Mirkwood. And he had real potatoes to go with it, and even the eggs of Mordor had improved, now that the chickens got a little sunshine and could actually scratch and peck a bit, in a maimed sort of way. Yet he toyed with his breakfast, only part of his mind appreciating it. His tablemates thought they understood, what with the task ahead of them, so they let him brood in silence.
Part of his mind tried to recover last night's dream, recalling how his father taught that in times of trouble your dreams could provide clues for a way through. But nothing seemed helpful, there, just something vague about an old hobbit presenting him with Sting. But bringing along his father's sword seemed too obvious for a dream to bother with; he'd already set it out with his clothes the night before, and it waited now by his chair with his water-bottle and his walking-stick. He couldn't remember one word of his conversation in the dream; he soon gave up on that, and immediately other concerns flooded him.
"I didn't do it," he kept telling himself. "Even if Sauron has recovered enough to sneak thoughts into me as though they were my own, I'd have remembered murdering somebody--wouldn't I? No--it had to be someone else." He looked at Mattie nodding over breakfast, while Leech prodded her to eat.
The healer smiled bitterly. "At least your tolerance is not quite so great as I feared," Leech murmured under his breath; it made Frodo uncomfortable that he could hear that clear across the table--just how acute would his senses become, anyway?
Elenaril looked drowsy, too; her head drooped over her breakfast. Bergil gave her scar-ridged cheek a caress, looking on her with concern. She said, "It is nothing, love; I just stayed up all night. I could not sleep."
"Could you not? Or would you not?" He looked meaningly at Mattie.
Leech said, "I am glad not to be the only healer in this house. Thank you, milady, for watching over him."
Mattie roused just a little. "'Salrigh', Leech. She knows. Ever'body in the wholllllle house knows I'm not a him. Why d'you think they quartered me in Beebee's room?" She giggled, then sang, so very sweetly, "No more ribbons, no more bows, no more mud between her toes," and toppled over onto Leech's shoulder.
Elenaril said, "I listened to her breathing all night long. Sometimes it would stop, and I feared. But whenever I reached for her she started up again."
Frodo finished his meal, wiped his mouth, and watched Leech carry Mattie to the bench, propping her up with folded blankets. "Tend to her, Elenaril," the doctor told her. "I must go with the others to the beach. They might have need of me."
"That I will," the herbwife said. "I know of a tea that might help." She went straight to the kitchen-corner, sensitive fingers running over jars and boxes, her monster-face snuffling each in turn for the ingredients she needed.
Frodo averted his eyes from the naked, flaring nostrils. "That is not who she is," he thought to himself. "That is just what has been left to her." But he vowed to remember moments like this, if Sauron indeed marshalled the strength to return and tempt him again.
Bergil asked, "Shall we go?"
"Aye," Frodo said, rising from his seat and buckling on Sting. "No," he said. "Wait. I'm not quite ready after all; Sting needs sharpening." He drew out the blade from its battered old sheath, reaching into his pouch with his other hand for his whetstone. But what he really wanted, besides a chance to stall, was to see whether he could find any traces of blood. There, maybe, just a faint rim dried about the hilt where a hasty wipe had failed to reach? No, that looked more like the black ichor of the monster that mauled Fishenchips' hand...possibly. He thumbed Sting's edge; it no more needed sharpening than a dragon's tooth. "Sorry, my mistake--the blade's just fine," he said, sheathing it again.
Leech stuffed little bundles into his pockets--rolls of rags that he'd boiled the night before and wrapped up tightly first thing in the morning. Then he slung a bag of medical supplies over his shoulder and stood by the door.
Fishenchips came right behind them. "Let's do'er, then," he said grimly. On his shoulder he bore a shovel that he'd spent half the night sharpening till it might have been an axe. Frodo looked on him and thought of his ancestor Roin's last stand. Then he shook himself out of his mood. "Nobody's going to make any last stands today," he told himself sternly, and fastened on his cloak.
Outside they found a clear sky and still air--perfect weather for the business at hand. Frodo stared at all the people in the streets. He never saw so much industry in such variety in all of his days at Seaside. Some men herded goats and bleating kids off for their daily forage, while the children who normally tended them darted about the alleys in a laughing game of tag. Some beat rugs with all the fury of men battling goblins, some picked up litter in the streets or replastered old, cracked walls long left neglected. Frodo saw men finally hauling wheelbarrows full of rocks to build those terraces that he'd wanted put in along the slope; he had nagged folks about it for weeks. When they walked past the smithy he saw that Harding had so many volunteer assistants that the poor man could hardly swing his hammer; the smith looked relieved to see Frodo's party pass by, and grabbed up his own sword to join them, while the rest stared after him as if he'd gone fey. Aside from Frodo's four companions, it seemed that every able-bodied man in Seaside had found some task much more important than the one his party faced.
Bergil smiled wryly. "Who would have thought that fell creatures could do a community so much good? Do you think, Frodo, that we might domesticate a couple?"
Frodo laughed feebly, and tried to come up with some rejoinder, but failed. His hand sweat on Sting's hilt in the cool February morning. He tried to think of anything, anything at all other than the task ahead of them, but that just brought his mind back to the murders.
It couldn't have been Mattie. Mattie had left town before anybody died. Frodo remembered her boarding the ship...no, he remembered no such thing. He remembered hearing her steps leaving him, and then the ship departing, but he had not actually seen her set foot on it.
"'Scuse me, guv," said the man he bumped into, a fellow busy sweeping the cobbles cleaner than they'd been since Sauron's reign, while pointedly not looking anyone in the eye as he went about it.
"No, sorry--my fault," Frodo murmured, moving on. But then if Mattie had stayed in town, how'd she end up on Watersheen's ship on the way back? Then again, she did come back too soon. Had Watersheen picked her up on a nearby shore?
Speaking of the Captain, Frodo saw him and his men walking straight towards them, waving. When the two parties met, Watersheen yawned hugely and grinned down on the hobbit. "I hear ye've got some work for strong arms and stronger stomachs."
Frodo grinned back up, relieved beyond expression. "That I do," he said.
"Good, 'cause me an' the men need a li'l exercise to wake us up a bit so's we can enjoy our shore leave properly." He rubbed his eyes with hairy fists. "Slept in this mornin'" he admitted. "Anyway, we'll lend ye a hand, if ye wants us."
"Do I ever!" Frodo exclaimed. "Thank you! But it's not my idea of exercise. Given my druthers, I'd much rather turn the midden heap."
Bergil and Fishenchips laughed the loudest of all at that, having some experience with the heap. Fishenchips said,"Ye'll be doin' good, li'l buddy, if ye don't make a contribution to the midden right there on the beach afore all's done."
Frodo tried to smile as he walked beside them. "How'd I get myself roped into this, anyway? This has nothing to do with gardening, near as I can figure."
Bergil winked at him. "'Tis what you get for letting a powerful woman mix business with pleasure in your company."
Captain Watersheen guffawed in surprise, eyeing the hobbit up and down (well, more down than up.) "She got you, did she? She got you?"
Frodo turned bright red. "Well, not quite."
Bergil laid a hand on Frodo's shoulder and said, "Hobbits practice the ancient virtues, Captain."
"No kiddin'? I heard o' those." To Frodo's surprise Watersheen looked on him with new respect. "But that's hard, ain't it? Takes a lot o' will?"
"Oh yeah," Frodo said, and grinned despite himself, though his face burned no less.
Bergil said, "If anybody has a stubborn will, that would be a hobbit or a donkey, take your pick. Bleys and Frodo were made for each other."
"Speaking of Bleys," Frodo said, "we can't keep him in the goat-pen forever."
Bergil's smile became disdainful. "Even as we speak, Frodo, two dozen strong men labor to build him a barn right next to our home. I never thought I'd see so many Seasiders choose bricklaying over a stroll on the beach." And he chuckled as he said it.
As they walked down onto the sand, the captain yawned again, and Frodo had a good long look at Watersheen's puffy eyes. Frodo glanced around and couldn't help but note that all of the sailors seemed far too cheerful about what lay ahead of them, nor did any of them walk quite straight. He told himself, "They just haven't got their landlegs yet; it means nothing."
Leech meanwhile strode alongside one man and then another, examining wounds and actually changing bandages on the fly. Somebody said, "Save some for later, Leech," and the men all laughed. Frodo squirmed; of all the things to find humorous, he felt they had no business laughing about that.
Watersheen rubbed the back of his neck and said, "I had forgotten how deeply one can rest on the shore. I think I'd lie abed still if Mistress Mayor hadn't turned us out the door."
Frodo bit his lip, then said, "And how was dinner last night?"
"Absolutely dee-licious! Best meal I ever had in me entire life." He rubbed his belly and smiled. "I din't realize how good food could make a bloke so sleepy, though; man oh man I slept like a baby!"
"Aye," said another, feeling free enough to butt in on the Captain's conversation. "An' it makes yer innards tingly-good right down t'yer toes, all warm and cozy-like."
"I'd of had seconds," said a third, "If I coulda kept my eyes propped open long enough." And everybody agreed that yes, they all would have had seconds had they managed to stay awake. Frodo looked about at smiling faces and stumbling feet, and a quiet sense of panic began to stir within his breast. One sailor said, "Nice lady, that Mayor Aloe. A real sweetheart." And he blinked over a stupid smile.
"I'm ashamed of meself," the captain confessed. "I never sleep in like that. I just don't."
The waves made a deceptively soothing hush upon the shore; Frodo started to feel drowsy, himself, dragging his feet through the sand. Soon he felt like sand filled up his body, soft and heavy. He tugged at his hair to wake himself up (his hair had grown longish again.) When he found himself yawning for the third time in as many minutes he really began to worry, and that did rouse him, popping him back to alertness like bursting out of deep water to a gulp of air. "This brushing other people's minds has its drawbacks," he muttered, "when so many think at one time how they'd rather lie abed!"
"So, Fish," said the Captain. "How's land-life treatin' ye?"
"Good!" he said, blushing but grinning. "Best I kin remember."
"Yer lookin' good, too. Maybe a little rangier, but not as thin as I'd expect, life among the landlubbers bein' what it is."
"Oh, we've had short commons," Fish allowed, "but ye'd be amazed at how hobbit cookery can stretch 'em."
"Your master cooks for you?"
"He's a strange one, our Frodo, but that don't mean soft--you dinna wants t'cross him when his blood's up."
"Good," Watersheen said, his expression looking solemn for a moment. "We're gonna need that."
Harding asked, " Where're we headed, anyhow? Where's it s'posed t'be?"
"Among those rocks ahead," Bergil said, pointing to black, water-smoothed outcroppings of stone rising half from sand and half from sea. "In a cleft between two boulders. They like to spawn amid the rocks, particularly black rocks that soak up warmth."
Harding nodded. "Fireproof places. Figgers."
Frodo said, "The mayor wants this lot cleaned up before they grow any bigger. We've put this off too long, she says, but--saving yourself, Master Harding--the locals wouldn't dare."
Captain Watersheen asked, "Did Aloe actually see them, or did she guess?"
"Oh, she saw them, all right."
In a mock-innocent voice, the Captain asked, "Gar, I wonder why she dinna come along to point 'em out fer us?" Everybody laughed.
Bergil smiled, too, through his nerves. "Our mayor is as laudably busy as the rest of the village right now."
"Why'd she put it off so long in the first place?" Frodo asked, "You know, sending people out for this."
"Why d'ye think?" Watersheen growled.
Leech put in, "I have noticed long before this that nine folks out of ten will wait to see if their problems go away, even if they have no reason on earth to imagine that they would. 'Tis why half the world's problems grow so large."
"Uh, gentlemen..." Frodo interrupted, "What is that hissing I hear just ahead of us?"
"Oh that!" said a sailor who should have known better. "'Tis but the sea."
"No," Frodo said, gone white at the sight of spines or fins poking up past the top of the rock. "It's not."