I Will Not Say the Day is Done
Nor Bid the Stars Farewell
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 5, Part 102
The Wages of Victory
(February 26, 1452)
"Don't you dare!" Frodo dragged Mattie to her feet, though the pain in his leg-wound shot clear up to his jaws. He shook her till she inhaled with a gasp, opened up her eyes again and smiled at him. "Don't you dare die and feed Sauron--you deserve better than that!" Frodo manhandled her into a stagger through the sand, back and forth, back and forth, speckles of his blood marking their circuit.
A cane tapped his ankle and then Elenaril's hand found his shoulder. "I couldn't stop her," the herbwife sobbed like all the tears she couldn't weep choked in her throat. "I tried, Frodo--oh heavens how I tried!" Frodo saw that one of her sleeves dangled half-torn from her shoulder.
"Say 'him', Elenaril. Outside my house you must always say 'him'." A hand stole to her mouth in shock. "It's all right--nobody heard. Now go to Bergil--he needs you."
"Bergil! Is he wounded?"
"We're all wounded." Her nostrils flared as she suddenly realized that she'd been smelling blood all along. Frodo heard her cane tap across the boulder, occasionally splashing when it hit a tidepool and drew back. But he concentrated on keeping Mattie moving.
"Bergil? Where are you, my heart?"
"Right here, beloved."
Frodo turned in his circuit and saw them embrace. Then Elenaril sniffed for blood and traced it down to Bergil's forearm. She keened and cradled the hurt limb against her breast, the red stain spreading down her undyed robes. But soon her training kicked in and she set herself to binding up his hurt. After she got him stabilized she joined Leech in tending all the other casualties, while Frodo walked round and round with Mattie, his own wound aching like his heart.
"He sang us here," someone said behind Frodo.
"What?" He turned and stared into a man's wide-eyed face.
"He sang us all here. Mattie the Messenger. We din't want to fight no dragons, but he gave us the heart to build a fire, at least, and find the blasting-stuff that the orcs had left behind."
"Good for you," Frodo said, and he couldn't say himself whether he meant that sincerely or sarcastically. And he went on walking Mattie. She looked positively green, but she kept on smiling, eyes now shut.
After awhile Frodo directed their steps more towards the others, hoping for some help. But everywhere he looked injured people sat or lay upon the ground. Harding stood, but only to hold up his own tunic so that Elenaril could bind his lacerated ribs, as he stared down at a skeleton on the sand. When Frodo got closer the hobbit saw for himself that the bones looked pretty much like what you'd expect of a much younger dragonet than the ones they'd fought--of a size they would have found much easier to slay, had anybody pulled themselves together in time to attempt it.
Harding said, "I've been over by Hando's often enough, fixin' his blades an' all, to know butcher-marks on bones when I see 'em. Somebody two-legged and carryin' a knife ate that li'l monster, or I'm a goat."
Elenaril's hands dropped away as she whispered, "Oh dear heavens!" But Frodo heard no more of the conversation, for he realized that he no longer walked Mattie but dragged her.
"Curse you, you sot!" he shouted right into her face, holding her up by handfuls of shirt. He shook her and shouted more words, orc-words he'd never learned in the Shire, but she just bobbled in his grip. "No! No, come on! Come back, you!" He ran-limped back to the dragon's nest, scooping her up into his arms ("Too light!" he thought) and jumped right in with a great pink splash. The saltwater burned in his cut as he kicked an eel away, dogpaddling madly. He dunked Mattie till she coughed and sputtered, then hauled her out again, crawling up the rock, both of them sopping wet and shivering.
He yanked her back onto her feet; she whimpered some incomprehensible complaint, but he got her walking again. He had gone past worrying about how the wet clothes might reveal her gender, but she had shrunk so thin that it didn't matter, anyway. When she started to nod again he slapped her face, wincing with each blow, himself; he had never heard of any other hobbit besides Ted Sandyman who had ever struck a member of the opposite sex, not past the age of six. "She barely feels it," he told himself. "I have to do whatever it takes." She didn't even open her eyes.
He looked about him frantically for help, but both healers had their hands full staunching wounds much deeper than his own. But at least he caught Leech's eye. "What do I do?" he cried out across the stone's expanse. "In Varda's name, tell me what I've got to do!"
"Check his pulse," Leech called back, while he twisted a tourniquet on a groaning man's arm.
"I can't find her pulse!"
"Try his neck."
There, just barely..."I found it, but it's very faint, and slow....scary long pauses."
"Keep him awake, and above all keep him breathing!"
"How do I do that?" Frodo asked, but Leech had hurried to another patient whose bleeding had started up again. " Big help, Leech," he muttered to himself, forcing Mattie on, step after bleeding step, around and around and around. "Tell me something I don't know."
Frodo saw a couple of sailors with light injuries walking the youth that had fought beside him, even as he did with Mattie, fighting to keep the kid from succumbing to concussion. He didn't feel entirely alone in his troubles, then. Frodo reassured himself by feeling the soggy hobbit shuddering with cold under his arm; shuddering meant life. Yet, holding her pressed so close to him, he felt her every bone through their clothes; he had to keep looking to remind himself that he didn't clasp a skeleton to his side.
But the ribs did not move enough beneath the shivering skin. Too slow, too shallow...and then they stopped.
"Breathe, curse you!" Crying, he punched her right in the solar plexus. She exhaled with a sudden huff, and then wheezed loudly like a dead thing fighting back to life, while the tears ran down his face.
He got her moving again, stumbling by his side. "Come on, keep walking. That's it, honey, just keep walking." He racked his brains. What could speed a slowed-down heart and lungs? Fear, excitement, anger? "That explosion hurtling her through the air probably saved her life," he thought. He couldn't think of anything fit to follow that up with, though, not with the dragons all blown up. "What am I to do?" he murmured over and over to himself, while he watched Elenaril grope from patient to patient, guided by their cries, even as Leech bound up those too far gone to call for help. "What am I to do?"
'Nothin'," Mattie murmured, barely audible.
"What's that, Mattie?"
"Nothin'," she repeated.
"Come on, keep talking. Tell me what is nothing."
"Me. Withou' th'magic. Take away th'poppy, an'..."
"No, no--don't think that way." He tried to flip his dripping hair out of his eyes, but he didn't dare let go of her to free a hand. "You mean a lot without the poppy. You would become even more."
"No magic...No courage...No songs. Never face th'pass. Never rescue annerbody. People'd die..."
"That's not true! You had courage before you ever smoked--real courage, not numbness. And your songs, Mattie, you would write even better songs! Trust me--I know things."
"You'n' your magic lens. But me...withou' magic...nothin'..."
"You are the magic! Oh Mattie, if you could only break free, you would be everything to me!"
He stumbled some ways before he realized that she had opened her eyes and now stared at him.
A sudden cry of anguish made him force himself from her gaze. Captain Watersheen roared again, tearing at his hair. "Idiot! Misbegotten idiot that I am! What was I thinking?" He looked wildly around him at his staring men. "I feel like my stupid brain just now woke up. I have doomed us all!"
Leech laid down a leg he'd been bandaging and did what none of the sailors dared to do. He got up, took the Captain by the shoulders in his bloodsoaked hands, and shook him. "Tell us what is wrong, Watersheen," he said.
"Soap won't get it out," he gasped. "It'll linger on for months, they say."
"Soap won't get what out?"
"The smell of dragonspawn blood. Even if we can't smell it no more, their mother sure as Morgoth can!" All eyes turned towards the Sea of Nurnen, where the mariners would have to sail in a matter of days.
But Frodo hardly cared, no more than heed the aching in his thigh. He felt Mattie's pulse quicken and grow strong again, under his hand where he held her tight, as a faint bloom of color washed her cheeks. She kept her eyes fixed on his, and he gazed back like her life depended on it, stumbling blindly through the same circle over and over so that he would never have to look away. He almost thought he heard a nasty chuckle, somewhere to the right, just behind his mind, but he tuned that out, too. "That's it, honey," he murmured in her ear. "Just keep walking. You just keep right on walking, dear. You're doing fine."