The Adventures
of
Frodo Gardner

Volume IV
I Will Not Say the Day is Done
Nor Bid the Stars Farewell

By Dolores J. Nurss

Chapter 7, Part 104
Best Hobbit
(February 27, 1452)

A formidable crone with astonishing muscles for one so weathered led the bridal women. She clapped a hand on Elenaril's arm; you could no more have broken her grip than that of an ent. She stared Bergil right in the eye and said, "The Herbwife of Bristlescrub is ours for these coming nights. I know the old way of these things." And without further ado she led the startled woman off to the swarm of bridesmaids who engulfed her.
 
"Old way?" Bergil asked, his voice nearly as high as when he faced the dragonets. "What old way is she talking about? I know of no such custom."
 
Mattie rejoined them, laughing, and skipped high to where she could clap Bergil on the back. "I know her," she said with a nod to the departing crone, who herded the women off to the mayor's house. "Old Kila comes from Harad; her parents paid her to Sauron as their tithe to the Dark Lord, back in the day."
 
"Soooo," Frodo mused, "we can expect, for the wedding, something of a hybrid between the customs of Gondor and Harad?"
 
Mattie couldn't repress her giggles. "Worse than that. Throw in about a bucketful of imagination. The more that old harridan forgets, the more she elaborates to fill in the gap. And she's been waiting her whole life long to perform a 'real' wedding."
 
Bergil grew paler by the minute. "May the Valar protect me!"
 
Fishenchips threw a friendly hook around Bergil's shoulder. "Let's get home, mate. Bad news always looks better on a full stomach than an empty one."
 
Frodo grinned. "My father couldn't have said it better." Yet he found he hungered for something other than food, something he couldn't put a finger on. And the wind blew colder, and colder still.
 
Twilight had begun to set in by the time they reached the Tower House. Inside Fishenchips soon got a good warm fire going, to make the shadows dance and to flush all their cheeks in its cheery red light. Frodo huddled close to the hearth, trying to get some warmth back into his bones. Fishenchips took one look at him, and another at the stunned ranger slumped in a nearby chair, and said, "Right. I'm cookin'."
 
Soon savory smells rose up from a pot that bubbled and chuckled practically at Frodo's elbow; Fishenchips had learned much from his master. Frodo took little notice of the man stirring the pot beside him. The coals twinkled jewel-like before him, and the flames danced invitingly. He scooted his stool just a little bit closer.
 
Abruptly Bergil stood up, walked stiffly over to Frodo with a sort of glazed expression, bowed to him, and then to Frodo's mystification fell down to one knee before him. "Master Frodo Gamgee Gardner," he intoned. "Would you do me the honor of being my Best Man?"
 
"Your Best...oh! You mean Best Hobbit. Would I? Why of course I would! The honor is mine."
 
They clasped hands on it and then suddenly Bergil broke out into a foolish grin, yanked the hobbit to him and gave him a big back-thumping hug. Then the man sat right plunk on the floor, laughing like a drunkard. "I am really going to marry her!" he shouted, happily waving his arms. "I am really, finally going to marry her!" Then he fell back and lay on the floor, laughing his heart out.
 
Fishenchips looked askance at the man. "Do weddings do this?" he asked. "Drive men mad?"
 
Frodo smiled. "Almost every time."
 
Bergil sprang to his feet right up from the ground and clapped his hands together. "When's supper?" he cried. "I'm famished--I could eat a horse!"
 
Frodo salivated at the cliche. He pictured horses, running wild through the fields of Rohan, just as plump and healthy as ol' Billy-Lass, pictured them so vividly he could smell them, ripe with the hot blood that he craved, stampeding far below him in a beautiful panic, poetry on the hoof, and all he had to do was swoop a little lower, sink his claws into that succulent flesh...
 
Frodo snapped back to himself as Fishenchips handed him a bowl, cupped in the hook quite well. "There ye go, Guv. Ye can eat it right here, if ye choose."
 
"Oh. No, that's fine. I'll join you at table." He carried the bowl over, climbed up onto his chair, and just stared at the food. The sight of chunks of dead meat floating amid perfectly useless vegetables nauseated him. What fun was that? Why couldn't they let him tear his meat fresh from the living bone and roast it for himself in a flash?
 
He set the bowl aside. "I'm sorry. I'm, uh, a little under the weather. I don't feel like I can eat this."
 
Bergil didn't even hear him. "Fishenchips, my good man--would you be my groomsman?"
 
"Uh, what's a groomsman?"
 
"One who helps the best man to get the groom ready for his wedding."
 
Fish's brows knuckled. " Groom? You talkin' Elvish, man?"
 
Bergil laughed and jumped to his feet as blithely as Tom Bombadil to clasp Fish by the shoulders. "You would love it. We have no fairer ceremony." With a wink he added, "And it involves a private party among the men the night before, I'll have you know."
 
"Oh, well, in that case..."
 
Frodo picked up his spoon again. What was he thinking? Hunger rumbled empty within him, and here he had perfectly good food right at hand...he swallowed a couple mouthfuls and it tasted just fine.
 
In rapture Bergil paced around the table, practically dancing in fact, exclaiming, "Oh, she will be such a vision of loveliness, with her moonlight hair wafting over a gown of purest white..."
 
Fishenchips mouthed the word "Mad!" to Frodo and tapped his forehead with a wink.
 
"Not white," Mattie interjected. "Red. In Eastern lands the bride wears red."
 
Bergil stumbled and grabbed a chair for balance. "That is hardly proper!"
 
"It is by their account. Pass me some of that bread, will you?"
 
Frodo looked up as he cut a slice. Mattie ate with a healthy appetite. Good--she needed all the food that she could get. Did that mean...but no; Leech had grown too sick for food for days on end. Frodo inhaled deeply when he leaned over with the bread and caught a whiff of burnt flowers. In a dull undertone he said to the other hobbit, "You smoked again, didn't you?"
 
"Very little," Mattie admitted. "Just to keep things normal. Not enough for dreams and visions." She stared at Frodo with her snakelike eyes. "I don't even feel sleepy."
 
"When did...oh. When we talked to the Eastern woman about the wedding. You stepped into an alley there for a moment."
 
Mattie smiled at him sadly. "Did I disappoint you, Frodo? Yet I have cut back."
 
"For now," Frodo said, and turned his attention to his bowl.
 
She reached out a hand to his, and he froze, spoon still in the bowl. "I can do this, Frodo. Lead a relatively normal life. I won't need visions every day." She brightened. "I can have the best of both worlds, tapping into the magic only when it does the most good."
 
He looked up at her. "You can lead a relatively normal life--until Sauron wants something from you." He swiveled his chair away from her. "You're still his slave."
 
Bergil took no note of this conversation; he had sat back down to his dinner, but instead of eating it he murmured over and over, "What am I to do? I have no idea what rites she will expect of me. What am I to do?"
 
Mattie turned to him and put a friendly hand on his arm. "Don't worry," she said. "I'll find out everything I can at the bridal party and...no." Her face clouded "I have no place in any bridal party."
 
Frodo couldn't help himself; he found something beautiful and tragic in that thin, high-cheekboned face as she stared off into her own grief. "I'm sorry," he told her. "I suppose that it must hurt, not to be able to do normal womanly things anymore."
 
"Unless..." and here she got a sly look in her eyes, "They wouldn't know the difference..."
 
"Difference? Between what?"
 
"I can always tell them that male hobbits help the bride's party, at least to start. But that means, Frodo, that you'll have to come, too."
 
"Indeed!" Frodo cried indignantly and pulled his hand back.
 
"Please? I may never get this opportunity again. Please, Frodo?"
 
"I would have to lie, Mattie."
 
"You call me 'him' in public already."
 
"But that's just...oh curse it all! Nothing is ever simple with you, is it?"
 
She smirked. "Would you like me better boring?"
 
Soberly he said, "That would not be such a bad idea." He took a deep breath, and then said, "Mattie, yesterday you came closer to dying than I ever thought anyone could go and still come back. You stopped...I had to...I had to do awful things just to make you breathe again." He wondered if she'd noticed, getting dressed this morning, the bruise that must purple her middle by now, or if she had just been too drowsy to care. He stood up from the table and went over to huddle once more by the fire. He wished he could conjure up fire deep in his belly to warm up his cold, cold blood. He wished he could burn away all of this painful, stupid caring for the likes of Mattie Heathertoes Greenbanks. In a vague sort of way, he didn't quite understand why he couldn't.
 
Mattie followed him. "Is it so much, this little lie? Because I know we hobbits lie all the time." Her voice waxed sarcastic. "'Tell her I'm not in, or that I'm in the bath, or anything!' 'Tell him I will have the money tomorrow.' 'Tell them Daddy is sick, that he ate some bad pork.' Oh, we're very good at lying when we want to be."
 
And now you can be even better at it than anyone.
 
For an instant Frodo's heart stopped.
 
Oh, do not fight it, my little friend. Dragon's blood can convey eloquence, if you let it, and eloquence is power.
 
Frodo felt still colder as the blood drained from his face and his head began to spin.
 
Saruman found it so. It was I who taught him, just a couple drops of dragon's blood in a glass of wine, once would do it for all time. One word to me and I could provide all; he needn't even endanger himself in battle. With only a trace, one escapes the less pleasant side effects. Although they would be worth it!
 
Slowly Frodo said, "Hobbit blood is stronger."
 
"What?" Mattie said, but Fishenchips nudged Bergil, his eyes widening; he knew that distant look by now.
 
No doubt, no doubt, worthy scion of Míryave. But never turn your back on...
 
"Don't you DARE speak the name of Míryave! You did everything in your power to try and crush her crown!"
 
Mattie's eyes widened and she backed away, as Fishenchips and Bergil both rose from their seats, attention riveted on their master. Sauron persisted, Never turn your back on power, my already-powerful little friend. You have need of every aid that you can find, considering the work ahead of you. The lovely, loathsome voice grew rich with relish as it said, Look at them, all around you. You could speak to them, if you chose, with a dragon's tongue. You could make them do ANYTHING.
 
Frodo watched his friends, watching his struggle. "But...but I do not want..."
 
Oh? Do you not? Did it not take an onslaught of young dragons to inspire the villagers to bestir themselves to do your full bidding, even though you exhorted them for their own survival? Iluvatar made simple creatures, flawed from the beginning--lazy, obstinate, never comprehending their own best interest. Those few who transcend the errors of their making MUST take the reins, rule the lives of those who cannot rule themselves, or all shall fall to chaos. I tell you, Frodo, Seaside was a thriving port in my day--look what they have done to it without me!
 
"We have debated this before; your people still prefer starvation over your kind of rule."
 
Then let them starve! The voice lost its suavity, but soon regained it. But you could still find them useful, once you rendered them pliable. Like the Mayor--the most obstinate of all. Wouldn't you like it if, for the price of a few seductive words, you could...and then the voice broke off into chuckles. Ah. I see you have already sampled her charms and found them wanting.
 
"Oh you filth. You stay out of my private thoughts!"
 
Now now, my dearest friend. Let there be no secrets between us. You, at least, cannot have any."
 
"SHUT UP!" Fishenchips backed into the table at the shout and knocked a dish to the floor but Frodo kept on glaring into the fire like he hadn't heard the crash. One of the coals looked remarkably like an eye...
 
Not dear Aloe, then? This creature beside you, perhaps? Ahhhhhh yes! There the feelings rise, the chemistry in the blood which you so quaintly take for love. But she is too thin for your tastes, is she not? Not much curve to her?
 
"Stop perusing her like a piece of meat!" But even as he said it he salivated with dragon-thoughts.
 
You could change all that, you know.
 
Frodo caught his breath. His lips barely shaped the words, "What do you mean?"
 
By dragon-power, of course. When I said that you can, if you allow it, persuade anyone to do anything, I meant it. You could persuade her to love you more than poppies.
 
He did not trust what Mattie's eyes might read upon his lips. In silence he thought,"You mean I could free her?"
 
You could at least transfer her over into your own possession. Even I could not stop you. And admit it--wouldn't you be a kindlier master than I myself? She would fatten under your influence, the bloom would come back into her cheeks, her eyes would sparkle. She would regain full health, and live as long as you fancied her. If you wish, you could even persuade her to believe that she loved you--intensely, completely, helplessly. She would be yours, and you would take good care of her...you would, wouldn't you? Not that it matters to me what you do with your own...
 
Frodo sat there, speechless.
 
Feel the power, Frodo. And that fool, Leech, treats it like a disease!
 
Frodo blinked, and grew aware that Bergil had been talking for awhile, as he strapped on his sword and then put on his cloak. "...not that far to go in the night; I can do this. Elenaril will know what to do."
 
"Oh no," Frodo said lightly, though his voice shook just a little. "You needn't disturb her." Then his voice grew richer, more beguiling somehow, as he said, "This is her night, after all, Bergil. You wouldn't want to deprive her of her night, would you? Not after all that she has suffered. She has had so little joy these many years."
 
Bergil winced, for though Frodo had spoken gently, the man obviously heard rebuke in the words. "But Frodo, you need..."
 
"I know what I need, dear friend. Hobbits command a strength unknown to men. Do you remember?" And a memory sprang up between them, of Frodo tugging Bergil to his feet when the fever raged within them both. When Bergil turned wounded eyes to him the hobbit sounded comforting, forgiving, as he said, "You needn't worry, faithful servant; I can handle it." And Frodo watched, only distantly surprised, as the Ranger hung his cloak back up and undid his sword.
 

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