I Will Not Say the Day is Done
Nor Bid the Stars Farewell
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 4, Part 101
(February 26, 1452)
The laughter stopped. Nobody said a word. Nobody heard a thing except for the deep, monotonous sighing of the Sea of Nurnen folding wave after wave upon the shore...and about a dozen separate hisses intermingling somewhere ahead amid the seawashed rocks. Frodo thought he heard something heavy dragging across gravel upon stone--no, more than one. Whatever lay just out of view absolutely seethed with restlessness.
In a voice slightly higher than usual, Bergil, that veteran of many a monster-hunt, asked, "Has anyone here ever cleaned out a dragon's nest before?"
Watersheen unsheathed a sword and said, "I've helped to slay a few of the adults ere now. I reckon this won't be too much different." And his men, and Fishenchips, all murmured agreement, though not with the same enthusiasm as they'd shown moments before.
A timid voice towards the back muttered, "One by one, though." Everybody pretended not to have heard him, but after that they just stood there.
Nobody said anything for so long that Frodo finally spoke up. "From what I've read, ah, in situations like this, it seems like a good idea for some of us to circle around, so that we take the foe from several sides at once."
Bergil swallowed. "That sounds wise." He looked to the hobbit. "Those with the quietest tread should join Master Frodo in taking the opposite side."
Frodo thought some bad words when he realized that he had walked right into that, but Bergil had a point. So he singled out some of the most light-footed sailors--a couple of likely youths younger than himself--to follow him. One bore an axe and the other a cheap new sword of dubious balance; Watersheen only recently had gotten far enough ahead of debt to start arming his crewmen properly. Both lads went as unshod as himself.
Even Frodo's short legs had no trouble climbing the boulder ahead of him, for it rose so gradually from the sand that it almost seemed flat at first. Waves periodically curled over the ends and washed the stone in burst of spume so lacy and dazzlingly white that Frodo had a hard time remembering that the Sea of Nurnen was poisonous and fell. Then the sheets of water would shock his toes with chill, and retreat back to the sea.
"Watch your step," one of the boys whispered to him. Frodo saw that smooth holes and bowls pitted the surface of the stone, each filled with water and scuttling with crabs and things in spiky shells, poisonous creatures themselves almost certainly. He had seen in Uncle Merry's possession many a shell from the Greater Ocean, in pearly tints of pink and peach, ivory and gold, but he saw nothing but black shells here. Among them, in the larger pits and cracks, moved black and slimy creatures like gigantic water-breathing slugs, or fang-mouthed eels with evil eyes. None seemed inclined to leave their liquid homes to nip his toes, however, so he walked with care and saved his worries for greater matters.
"This is my chance," he thought, though he felt sweating-sick with fear. "This will prove, to Aloe and everyone, that I am no plaything!" He actually found himself smiling to think, "And that is no doubt exactly as she planned."
It took forever for the rock to slope up to its full height, which Frodo both blessed and cursed, wanting to put off the moment and get it over with at the same time. Already they could smell the sulfurous fumes that dragons give off. Frodo loosened Sting in its hilt and made himself recall a certain fat little businesshobbit, who once wound up on a quest to challenge a dragon's claim to treasure--and on that quest, come to think of it, he found this very sword. That put some heart in him.
Now they drew close enough to see that dragon-spines did indeed reach above the boulder's height, in delicate tints of blue, green, and lavender, with translucent webbing iridescing in between. One of the sailors swore softly under his breath. Frodo gestured them to follow him in a wide arc around the fissure, as quietly as they could manage.
"They's big," the other whispered, weighing his sword in his hand. "They growed too fast."
"They'll be soft yet," Frodo assured them--and himself. "They'll wear no crust of jewels to guard their underbellies, nor will years of growth thicken the layers of their scales. We may never get a chance like this again."
They moved shoreward to where the crack between the two boulders had narrowed so that even a hobbit could hop over it easily. Water rushed in and out down there with every wave, crystal in motion. It would have made a lovely sight indeed if not for the eel that gnashed at the last lad's heels, but he got over unscathed. Now they moved seaward again, readying their weapons as Bergil brought the main force up within sight; Frodo saw the man's white, clenched jaw, and knew that he would hold fast no matter how frightened. Except for Harding, Fishenchips, and Leech, the others all blinked or rubbed their faces and necks like they still struggled to wake up, nightmare-slow in step and gesture.
Frodo forced himself to look down. The dragonets had indeed grown alarmingly, barely finding room to squirm in the fissure-cove. But that fact alone did not captivate the hobbit's gaze. The sun gleamed on opalescent scales in the palest of watery colors, wrapped about the most sinuous bodies that Frodo had ever seen, small for dragon-kind--small and precious.
"But they're so beautiful!" breathed one of the young men, dropping his axe--which clanged upon the rock. Immediately a dragonet whipped its head around.
"Don't look!" Frodo hissed, but even he caught just a glance of enormous, melting green eyes within soft and fluttering lashes, the long snout breaking into a sweet, puppy grin. Frodo tore his gaze away, only to see that the thumping he heard was the wagging of the baby dragon's tail.
"Why, ye're just adorable!" the sailor cooed, stepping forward.
"No! Don't!" Frodo cried, but too late. The long neck whipped up, the jaws clamped down, and soon the crevice splashed with blood and churned-up water as all the dragonets converged in a feeding frenzy. Then dragon-heads reared up in search of more.
Sting whirred through the air, making them pull back a bit to reconsider--and lunge again! The elvish knife--not really a sword--clanged against fangs or sheared young scales, but no great arm wielded it. In his other hand Frodo used his walking-stick as the closest thing he had to a shield, but pokes in the eye and raps on the jaw only deter a dragonet so far. His feet skidded too often on wet stone, and his heart pounded like a drummer gone mad. Now Frodo slashed to repel, not even thinking about killing blows, and the kid beside him did the same. But that gave the men on the other side an advantage in attacking the distracted dragons with the main force.
"Aiiiii!" Frodo screamed at the pain that tore across his thigh. He hacked off the tail that had lashed him, then stood there dumbly, watching his own blood drip down the shimmery pastel spikes.
"Watch it, Guv!" The surviving youth's sword severed a dragon-hand coming straight for the hobbit; Frodo snapped out of his shock and sprang back to back with the sailor, who bled from wounds of his own. They kept circling and circling, so that now Frodo faced the dragon-slot full on, now he watched behind where long necks stretched around them in search of an advantage, past sand and rock and sea and back to the crevice once again.
He finally got a clear view of the main battle on the other rock, and it horrified him. The sailors moved slowly, their reflexes dulled, their strategy confused. Only Bergil and Harding held their own, and Captain Watersheen by sheer force of will, rallying the men into three groups that now sought only to retreat. Red ran the blood down the sea-drenched stone.
Frodo smelled smoke, but before he could figure out what it meant, a wingtip whipped about and swiped his mate across the brow. The boy fell unconscious at Frodo's feet, bleeding from his head. Frodo sprang over him, sword held up, gritting his teeth to stop the trembling. "Come on, you filth!" he cried, like his father before him. "Maybe you've got me fair and square, but I'll make you pay for your supper!"
The dragonet stared down its snout at him with the most glorious eyes, blood now staining its milk-white teeth as it smiled. Frodo fought the flattery in an image of himself as an exquisite dainty, who could only find fulfillment by satisfying this lovely creature's hunger. The dragonet turned its head this way and that, taking such obvious pleasure that Frodo almost stepped forward to him. Instead the hobbit laughed, a little crazily, saying, "I swear if I ever make it back to the Shire, I'll never complain about cleaning out varmints from the garden again!"
And then came the cold, pure notes of a harp, and upon those notes rode a compelling tenor voice, in foul words sweetly sung. The dragonets turned as one towards the shore and the men fell back. One by one the spawn heaved up out of the crevice onto the stone, and slithered towards the voice. Frodo found his eyes watering for shame at the sight of all the wounds desecrating those amazing, shimmering bodies, then shook himself and remembered where his allegiance lay.
The smell of smoke grew stronger, and with it his awareness of the dragons' sulfur-smell, like an unpleasant memory that had lingered, suppressed, in the back of the mind all along. Frodo turned and saw that someone had built a bonfire on the beach; it must have taken half the firewood in Seaside. Frodo could see people on the other side of the flames, lots of people--the better part of the village, it appeared. One tiny figure stood out, nearest to the conflagration, swaying with the force of song.
"No, Mattie!" Frodo whispered. "This is too soon since the last time!"
The bard sang on. When the first of the dragonets drew near Mattie stepped out of the way and bowed, waving her hat, no longer strumming but still singing, as though inviting the creature to enter the fire. Which it did, unscathed, writhing with delight. Soon the others joined it, dancing in the flames, a splendid yet unholy sight that mortals should not see, tooth and claw and spine and scale scintilating with the living sparks, and the eyes aglow like embers full of soul. Mattie took up her harp and sang on, stepping back farther and farther, her song losing no power with distance. Frodo found himself walking forward to join the dragon dance, nor was he the only one. Then the sight of Mattie's weaving steps stopped him, and he moaned, "No. Not now. Not with Sauron's ghost so hungry!"
"NOW!" shrilled Mattie, and men of the village threw barrels into the flames and leaped back. For a second the dragons glanced about, startled--then the barrels exploded! The blast threw Mattie several yards into the air, but she landed on the sand and tumbled, laughing with excitement.
Frodo ran to her despite his burning thigh, choking through clouds of the foulest smoke; he leaped and landed on his knees, skidding through the sand, to reach her side. He helped her sit back up. He saw the glazed, unfocussed eyes like many times before, and yet he knew, he knew this time was different. "Oh, Mattie! What have you done?"
"Saved your darlin' fanny," she replied, grinning up but not quite at him, not quite at anything, with a face so pale that it verged on dead, shining in a clammy sweat.
"You can't keep doing this! I I I'd rather die than watch you keep on doing this to yourself!"
Mattie winked at him. "Ah, but y'love me for it, don' you? The magic of it all?" and then she passed out. He pressed his cheek to her lips, but felt no breath escape them.