I Will Not Say the Day is Done
Nor Bid the Stars Farewell
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 6, Part 103
Endings and Beginnings
(February 27, 1452)
Frodo hoped never to lift another basket of cobbles in his life. He tipped the last one from the cart into the final irrigation ditch among those dug by so many hands the day before (instead of fighting dragonspawn.) Those same eager hands filled each ditch with gravel around the perforated clay pipes that potters had made for Frodo in the coldest days of winter. For once everyone had remembered his instructions perfectly without him having to repeat them twenty times. "There!" he said, spreading the stones over the surface of the gravel with his foot. "That should slow the evaporation down considerably."
He mopped his brow with his handkerchief and rubbed his aching back. His head swam, but he scolded himself, saying, "Come on, Frodo! You didn't lose nearly so much blood as you did in Hollin; it hardly counts as a wound at all." Then he walked stiffly to the field's edge, his thigh burning like a dragon's hate. There he lopped off a kaktush blade (one of the nontoxic varieties) and carefully pared off the stickery skin with one knife while he skewered it with the other.(Everybody in Mordor wore at least two knives, at all times, and a sword if they could get it.) He returned to his cart, rubbed Bleys's muzzle, and gave him the cactus-flesh for being so patient. "Come on, lad," he said, climbing into the little donkey cart made all in a day from scavenged parts--oh, but Seasiders had shown such industry yesterday! "I've got to wash up a bit--got a funeral to attend." Bleys brayed agreeably in ignorance of such things.
Frodo picked up the reins and saw a child watching him, from some ways off. "Hello, there!" he called. "You're a far piece from the village." Even from here he could see the blotched and dirty condition of her russet gown, and her matted curls bedraggled on her shoulders. "Would you like a lift home?"
The child looked about herself in a bewildered way, swaying on her feet. "I don' remember comin' here," she said.
"Oh my," Frodo breathed, and hopped off the cart to limp towards her. "I hope you didn't sleepwalk here this morning--not with all the creatures on the prowl." Something looked peculiar about her eyes, but Frodo couldn't make it out from a distance. "Your mother must be out of her mind with fear!"
"Don't got no mother!" the little girl spat, and ran away. Frodo would have gone after her, but she had disappeared as surely as if he'd dreamed her. So he climbed back on the cart and vowed to keep an eye out for her in the future.
Back at the Tower House Frodo found Elenaril in a thin black robe that he didn't even know she'd packed. "Of course," Frodo thought. "People in Mordor must always be ready to mourn." She brushed out her snowy hair in a way that draped much of it over her face.
"Beloved," said Bergil, fingering a lock, "you need not hide yourself."
"It is not just that," she replied. "With no true nose the cold air comes straight into me and gives me headaches--and a chill has returned to the land. Coming my hair over my face helps a little."
Frodo hadn't noticed any chill; he went up to his room to wash his sweat off in the welcome coolness of water, and then dressed the best he could for the occasion. His waistcoat worked quite well enough, when he turned it inside out to expose the black lining; his mother had sewn it so carefully that you couldn't even tell. "But no embroidery," he thought. "They don't do that here."
He heard Mattie singing downstairs in Elenaril's room--a sad, sweet dirge. "I'll bet she knows more songs for the dead than for the living," he muttered, tying his scarf, and then pulling it off again as too hot. He heard footsteps coming up; as he combed his hair he watched in the mirror how Bergil rose up from the stairwell and then leaned on the bannister, watching him back.
Frodo turned around. "Yes?"
Bergil came over, and in a low voice said, "Yesterday was not remarkable, you know."
"No? You seemed none too familiar with fighting dragonets, yourself."
"I mean what passed between you and Mattie. If you crave a lifetime of such adventures, then continue to court her."
Frodo laid down his comb. "Bergil, she has not touched her pipe all day."
"She has no need--the poppy smoke saturates her from yesterday."
"No, Bergil--something happened. Something has changed."
"I will believe it when I see her pupils widen--but I fear that will be when she dies." Bergil brought over Frodo's jacket, but Frodo waved it aside; he could hardly bear even the waistcoat. Bergil looked down on him sadly. "Oh, she will make promises. And sometimes she will even believe them." He sat down on the bed, coming to eye-level with the hobbit. "But...Frodo, I had a ranger under my command who loved a poppy-fiend."
"I suppose you will tell me that it didn't work out." Frodo loosened his collar and patted perspiration from his brow.
"No. It did not work out. He despaired."
"He left her?"
Bergil smiled mirthlessly. "You could say that." He stood up, and his smile passed. "Frodo, he threw himself from a tower. He could not stand to watch the woman he loved continue to destroy herself and everyone around her."
"What a stupid, weak thing to do!" Frodo stomped around the room, looking for his cufflinks. "And as I recall the only ones that Mattie destroyed yesterday happened to be about half a dozen monsters."
"And nearly herself. And in a sense, nearly you. Just be careful, Frodo." Bergil handed the hobbit cufflinks that had lain in plain sight. "Learn what lies ahead on this road you tread while you can still turn back."
Frodo put on the cufflinks, then swiveled suddenly staring at Bergil straight on. "And what else do you have on your mind, Bergil?"
Bergil stepped back, startled. "Beg pardon?"
"You've got something else on your mind--well, then, spit it out! You're up to something, Bergil; I can feel it."
To Frodo's surprise Bergil broke into a smile. "That you shall discover soon enough."
When they went downstairs, the minute Bergil laid eyes on Elenaril, her lovely veil of shimmering white hair wafting from its night-black hood, his face colored and his eyes sparkled like he had not said anything grim all day. He smiled and offered her his unbandaged arm, looking for all the world like they went out for a walk in the brightest spring garden of the Shire or some better place. Yet for just a second Frodo saw Elenaril from Shire eyes--a nightmare figure, thin and dangerous. Then he saw her again in the glow of Bergil's regard and she became beautiful once more. "I wonder how much of Mordor is like her," Frodo thought, "like that kaktush blade I fed to Bleys--wholesome if you just get past a scary layer?"
Fishenchips delayed a bit; he had snagged his sleeve on his hook while getting dressed and now tried to sew the rent in his shirt while still wearing it, with one hand. Mattie came to his rescue and sewed it all up in a flash. Did her eyes seem just a little bit brighter, more liquid than usual, or did he imagine it? She had drowsed through breakfast, of course, and nodded through her lunch, but she looked all right now, he told himself, she looked just fine.
By the time Frodo's household had reached the docks, the sailors had already gathered on their deck. They paced around in an uneasy sort of way, while the ship creaked on its hawsers in a bit more wind than they'd seen in the morning. Frodo saw new wood skillfully patched in to replace what the dragon had ripped off, and the smell of pitch and paint lingered on the air.
Leech, who had stayed up all night tending the wounded, and had the shadows under his eyes to prove it, shook his head and whispered to Frodo, "I've no quarrel with those who keep a lucky charm or seek for four-leafed clovers, but 'tis a nasty superstition that brings no peace of mind."
"And what might that be," Frodo whispered back.
"This sailor's notion that 'tis bad luck to have no body for the funeral. We managed to salvage some bones of those who died on land, but the Blue Dragon tossed the others into the sea beyond our reach. And speaking of dragons, Frodo--did I ever get a good look at your leg?"
"I got a deep scratch. It's nothing."
"No injury is ever 'nothing' in Mordor. Come to my cabin--we have time, yet."
Grumbling, the hobbit limped after him. Leech made him shed his breeches, took a good hard look at his thigh, and said, "You have a bit more than a deep scratch, my friend, but it could have been worse." A cool hand touched his cheek and brow. "You also have a fever, I notice, but a small one." Leech washed his hands in something splashed from a bottle. Clean fingers explored the gash while Frodo winced. " Interesting...no sign of infection here. Dunking Mattie in the water might have saved your life--the salt and the poison of the Sea of Nurnen actually killed off any infection, though it did the tissue no good. I fear it will leave a scar."
"Not another one!" Frodo wailed. "If this keeps up, I'm going to go home looking like a patchwork quilt, rather badly botched!"
The healer smiled wryly. "Around here no one would pay you any notice." He irrigated the wound carefully, picking out any foreign matter with a pair of tweezers. "You will probably feel a little unwell over the next day or two, but nothing serious, with such limited exposure." Then he gave Frodo an odd look, and said, "However, there was, of course, also dragon-blood in the water." When Frodo stared at him blankly, Leech said, "Probably not enough to have much effect. But if you feel a little odd..."
"Just let Elenaril know. I get the impression she could help." Quickly he turned away, got up and rummaged among his shelves and brought back a jar. "I shall have to remember that, though--Nurnen water can clean wounds in a pinch." He spread a dark salve on Frodo's cut, which stung so bad it made the hobbit hiss. "I hear that you put in a good morning's work before coming here. That would explain your pallor."
"I've got pallor?"
"All very noble of you, Frodo, but I demand that you take the afternoon off." Leech reached for his bandages. "And sit through the funeral, please; I will insist upon a chair or stool for you. Have no fear--you will have ample company."
"The fields needed me," Frodo said. "Farming runs on its own schedule; you cannot easily lay it aside." But that reminded him. "I saw something disturbing, earlier," Frodo said as the healer wound fresh-boiled rags around his leg. He told the man about the little girl.
The healer grimaced. "That does not surprise me one bit. Sauron must replace those he uses up, or he will lose his last clawhold in this world and tumble off into the Outer Darkness."
"You don't mean..."
"Of course I do. I see now that he encourages his slaves to share their gum with new victims before their deaths. You have indeed opened my eyes to many things that I could not have puzzled out before. And Aloe has brought to my attention a minor epidemic in the village of new poppy use."
"But one so young?"
"Why not? Do you suspect Sauron of delicate sensibilities? He might draw longer use from the young. You may put your pants back on."
Frodo started to pull on his breeches and then stopped with only one leg on; how many people would he meet with secrets today? "Is there something else you want to tell me?" he asked the man.
Leech stared at him in surprise for a moment, then said, "Just that another murder happened last night. Wounds at the same height. Same characteristics as before."
"What characteristics?" Frodo finished dressing. "You didn't say anything about other characteristics."
Leech hesitated, turning slightly pale himself, and then said, "Some things you do not need to know," and left the room before his patient. Already the flute had begun to play the dirge. By the time Frodo limped to the stool set out for him, Captain Watersheen had already begun to thump the drum softly.
When the sailors began to sing, Mattie layered a rich tenor harmony onto their bass, weaving it in and out of the melody like a bright strand of hobbit-style funeral embroidery on black cloth. Emotions tore from her throat as she pulled in all of the grief on board that ship and wailed it off into the wind. Frodo thrilled to hear her, yet he also felt a kind of horror; her affinity for death rang out with every note. "Just how fascinated are you?" he wondered. "How far would you go?"
The Captain began to speak of each man in turn, of all that these six sailors meant to their comrades of the oars. Frodo should have paid attention. But the funeral rites that had moved him so deeply before now rolled over him like a wind, no sense in the sounds, his thoughts consumed him so. "Mattie stayed with us last night," Frodo told himself. But they had all slept deeply, stunned by weariness, even as Mattie had finally started to come to some awareness of herself. She could have unbarred the door, ventured out, come back in and barred it up again, with nobody the wiser.
Or could he have gone out himself, in some trance of exhaustion? Could Sauron do that to him? He did not wake up at all rested, after all. He had dismissed it as the aftermath of nightmares that had haunted him all night, or of the pain in his thigh, or the overall feeling of malaise that no doubt came of getting just a touch of Nurnen's poison in his blood, but what if...
He reached for his sister's lens and held it tight. It felt comforting in his hand. No. He couldn't have done anything so fell. Surely the lens would not welcome his touch if he had. Surely.
He glanced over at Bergil. The man seemed to have a hard time focusing on the funeral, too, his arm stealing around Elenaril's shoulder. Then Frodo did a double-take. Bergil had all the proper demeanor, solemn and polite, but Frodo could almost swear that the corners of his lips twitched a little, as though he fought hard not to smile, though the funeral droned on.
Frodo turned his attention back to watching the Captain's lips moving, the man's voice half-drowned by the surge of seawater all around them as the wind whipped up and blew the sailors' hair and beards almost horizontal and the ship rocked like it had taken sail. Frodo asked himself how he dared suspect Mattie of anything; she saved his and everybody's lives just yesterday! "But at what cost?" he asked himself. His namesake had fought till the last minute against using Sauron's fell powers even for good. Frodo's sweat suddenly turned chill; he mentally kicked himself for his stupidity in leaving his jacket behind.
“This water, she’s a graveyard that we sail,
Not a mile but doesn’t have a man of ourn,
And until this Middle Earth should fail,
We will remember,
Aye, we will remember,
That it’s on the breasts of comrades we are borne!”
The chant circled around and around the boat, hypnotizing him, half-heard. The splash of bones sent into the sea startled him back to the moment. It sounded pitifully light, not enough left to make a proper splash at all, not for six men lost. And it didn't seem right, somehow, to dump them there while still moored in harbor, where the floating bones would mingle with Seaside's garbage and bump against the piers. The singing faded back, the funeral ended on an off-key note, and people milled about again. Some glanced kindly Frodo's way, apparently attributing his shivering to emotion.
"Look," a sailor said softly, pointing out to sea. They all saw the Blue Dragon, quite some distance away, sporting on the waves. In no time at all, in silence save for the clicking of locks, every man of the crew had retreated into their cabins. Frodo sat on his stool with none but his household around him. He rose, and they followed him down the gangplank.
Frodo saw the people of the village running the other way. He looked over his shoulder in terror, but Bergil laughed. "Fear not!" he boomed, in a voice so rich in joy that Frodo could hardly believe they had just left a funeral. "The Seasiders run towards something, not away."
"The bridesmaids arriving from Bristlescrub. We sent for them some time ago, but a large party of women must travel slowly through Nurn."
"The...oh!" Frodo broke out in a grin, himself. "I knew you were up to something, you rascal!" he said, punching the laughing man in the arm. Ahead Frodo saw seven maidens and matrons, weary with their travels, but smiling and nudging each other when they saw Elenaril. A young one started to wave, and then remembered and blushed. The women parted the crowds and hurried to their herbwife's side as fast as their sore feet would allow.
Mattie said not a word, but smiled wistfully, then turned and walked away.