I Will Not Say the Day is Done
Nor Bid the Stars Farewell
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 10, Part 107
(February 29, 1452)
"Does this scarf loog all ride? Or do you prefer this wud?" Frodo looked up from his morning's tea, irritated with Mattie's insecurities and her stuffy nose alike.
"Either one will do." But the brimming red eyes annoyed him most of all. "Have you forgotten that males pay no attention to such details unless they're courting?" He took a sip. "Pick the one that's cleanest--that will be good enough."
She stared at both scarves in horror, their old sweat stains and their spatters. "I really hab led thigs slip, haved I?" And she blew her nose loudly, and he set his cup down with a loud sigh.
"Use one of mine, then, if that'll make you stop sniveling."
"I cad help it," she said, and then shyly added, "A ruddy dose ad weepy eyes is the first stage."
He looked at her, startled, saying, "I'm sorry. I forgot." The stare she gave back smote his heart. How could he forget? Bergil caught his eye next, frowning at him in a troubled way, and Fishenchips looked bewildered. Well let them! Uppity help.
But as he pulled Mattie's cloak onto her shoulders, he looked back at them again. "Well?" he snapped. "What is it?"
Fishenchips quickly blushed and picked up the breakfast dishes, muttering, "Nothin'." But Bergil stared back with level gray eyes and said, "Frodo, you are not yourself."
"Indeed! Who am I, then?" But before Bergil could answer Frodo swept Mattie out the door, his hand upon her elbow directing her steps. "The women are all apprentice healers, Mattie, and keep certain scruples against revealing the physical secrets of others; you can admit your gender to them, and linger long enough to spy upon the wedding's secrets for Bergil." But suddenly the ranger seemed like an idiot for caring, for humoring his bride so dotingly in the manner of their wedding. "I will wait outside till you gather all the nonsense you think fit."
"Oh for crying out loud! You wanted this."
"Frodo, you're hurtig be."
He suddenly let go of her arm and stared at his own hand in shock--not least because he had enjoyed that--or at least his fingers had. His fingers had wanted to squeeze hard, wanted to imagine claws dug so deep that Mattie could never escape. As if in sympathy for Mattie the wound in his leg throbbed; it occurred to him that it had not hurt for awhile, not until that moment.
It occurred to him that it didn't have to.
He looked at Mattie, and then down at his aching limb. All he had to do was let his heart freeze the rest of the way, and hurt would be for other people.
"No," he whispered. "I don't want that." A sudden pang nearly knocked him off his feet. He staggered to a wall and leaned against it, gripping his leg.
"Frodo! Whad's wrog?"
"I'll be all right," he gasped. "You go on ahead without me; I'll catch up later." She stared at him. "Don't be a fool, Mattie. Go do whatever it is you want to do." How tiresome these females could get, always fussing about other people's suffering as though it mattered to them personally. "Go on! Can't you take a single step without me?"
She stared at him, walked away backwards a few paces, then turned and ran.
The throbbing eased up a little, and he ventured a few steps. Tiresome females indeed, like his stupid mother wasting all that time by his bedside when he'd had a fever as a child, her work-rough hand gentle as she sponged his face with the coolest, most comforting water...
"Aaaaa!" The pang in his leg sent him reeling back to the wall, gasping for breath. Half-faint, he sank to the ground, clutching at his thigh. Sweat ran down into his collar but he knew the pain would ease up just as soon as he let go of all those silly, sentimental notions about his mother..."No," he panted, though the agony tightened. "No. I will not let go of my family. I...noooo..." he fought against a tide of torture, rising by the minute. "I will not let go of anybody."
He heard many light feet pattering his way, punctuated by a tapping sound. He looked up and saw a flock of women turn into the shortcut alley, Elenaril at their head, her cane steering her around the discards on the ground, though she moved so fast that the older women puffed to keep up with her. "Frodo?" she cried. "Can you call out to me?"
"I haven't lost my voice," he drawled, annoyed anew.
"Oh yes you have," she said, homing in on his words. She knelt down by him. "Please guide my hand to your wound."
He blushed, but complied. When her palm pressed the sore spot he yelped in pain. "Must you?" he squeaked.
"I can feel a heat like infection clear through the fabric," she said to the women who clustered around. "Pick him up, in the manner that I have shown you. He may be lighter than humankind, but I want you to practice the way of lifting men." Two women knelt down and made a kind of network of their arms, and two more slid Frodo onto this living seat, arranging his arms around the bony shoulders to either side of him. "Now lift entirely with your legs. Too many healers ruin their backs and do their profession little good thereafter." The company carried Frodo to the Tower House back the way he'd come.
Along the way Kila the Crone muttered, "This isn't proper, Beebee--you're supposed to stay in seclusion until the wedding."
"On the contrary, 'proper' means fulfilling my duty--I must train my apprentices to drop all other concerns at a moment's notice when the community needs an herbwife. And Kila, my name is Elenaril."
The old woman persisted. "So your lover has named you. But what will you do when he demands that you choose between him and your profession?"
"I would not marry a man who would ask such a choice of me." She led them into the house and straight up the stairs, past an astonished Bergil and Fishenchips, into Frodo's chamber at the top, where they deposited him on his own bed. Then, before he had a chance to protest she whisked his breeches off.
"Madam!" Frodo cried, grabbing for his blanket, but she gently prized it from his hands before he got very far. "It may not matter to you," he snarled, "but all these other women have eyes!"
"You will notice," she said coolly to her apprentices as she felt again for his wound, "That while some of his values remain intact, such as modesty, already his words have become more hurtful than his wont. Hmmm...the cut has swollen, and the edges stick up in a ridge. Tamarisk, dear, please describe to me the colors on and surrounding the wound."
A scrawny girl spoke up. "The lips of the wound itself are an angry red, but a bluish discoloration mottles the surrounding tissue."
"That would be typical of poisoning by sea-dragon blood. Common dragons would cause more of an olive tinge. Frodo, I need to ask you an embarrassing question."
"Oh, don't mind me, I'm just lying here in my briefs in front of a whole roomful of women who are total strangers."
"When did you decide to give in to the dragon's blood?"
"I..." He stared at her.
"Tell me, Frodo. We both know that you gave in. Please tell me when."
He hesitated a moment, and gave Mattie an uneasy glance. "I would rather not say."
"Somebody tell me--did he just look at someone in the room?" Several apprentices assented. "He fears to embarrass someone else, then. That is good." Mattie sneezed loudly. "Now, I have been hearing sneezing and sniffling ever since Mattie joined us. Frodo, did you use dragon-voice to persuade him to begin withdrawal?"
"Eledaril," Mattie began, "There is sobthig I hab to tell the...Frodo?" then the words sank in and she started cussing like an orc with a broken nose. "You didded! You didded!"
When Frodo said nothing, just hung his head, Elenaril asked, "When? How long ago?"
"Just...just yesterday. After the ship launched. But Elenaril, I love AAAAAA!"
"As you can see," she said, while groping about in a bag that an apprentice held out for her, "your dragon blood does not approve of love. The blood imitates infection because, having gained a foothold, it now battles the good in you." She drew forth a pouch of bronzy oval leaves. "The goal of all infections, after all, is to corrupt, although this usually applies merely to the tissue."
"But I only meant good when I did it! I only wanted to save her from..."
"You cannot save Mattie from her own choice," she said so sternly that no one could have believed she had grown up a street waif without family. "You have no right to make Mattie's choices for her, even if she gives all choice away."
All of the women stared at Mattie and murmured to each other. The hobbit cried, "Oh, thags a lot! Thags for keepig by segrets so well, Herbwife!"
"But Mattie!" Frodo protested. "You yourself were about to tell them..."
"Udder your freakid' evil idfluedce!" Frodo heard her boots pound all the way down the spiral stairs, and the door slam after her. As though nothing had happened, Elenaril said, "Tamarisk, fill the kettle for me. Sandstorm, stir up the fire."
Frodo glared at Elenaril. "Now you've done it. You realize that she's gone off to smoke her cursed poppy-gum, don't you?"
"That is her business," Elenaril said. "What is it Sandstorm?"
"Madam, he has no firewood."
"Well then, fetch some from the kitchen. And if they have no firewood there, break up a chair. Master Gardner can always buy another chair, but if we don't brew medicine for him soon we shall not find another Master Gardner. Where were we?"
"We were discussing," Frodo grated through clenched teeth, "The fact that you drove Mattie back to her personal poison."
"No, Frodo--that is not in my power. That is in Mattie's power alone."
"That power was MINE!" he cried, and lunged out of bed at her, but she shouted an elvish word that hit him like a crack of lightning somewhere behind his eyes so that he fell back down again, all of the strength drained from his body like he had no blood. He could barely murmur, "I could have saved her. You don't understand. I had almost saved her." Many hands held him down but they need not have bothered. He heard the rhythmical sound of someone systematically demolishing his furniture down below.
Then it dawned on him, the word she had shouted. "Elb..." he couldn't finish it. "Elenaril," he asked in a high, weak voice, "Why did...that name...that name...hurt me? Be, because it always helped my father."
"Oh, Frodo," she said gently, as she replaced the pillows he had scattered in his throes, "It only hurt the dragon-blood within you." She stood up at the sound of light and heavy steps coming up the stairs. "Ah, that would be the firewood." Sandstorm led Fishenchips up into the room, bearing an armful of chair-pieces.
"Lemme start 'er up," the man said, smiling. "I'm a natural." Several younger women made "Oooo!" sounds as he struck the flint on his hook and got the fire going. In no time at all flames crackled from the splinters to the thicker wood.
"I'm afraid we cannot wait for it to make proper coals; we shall have to blacken the pot." And Elenaril knelt down at the hearth to brew peppery-smelling leaves into a tea. To the women she explained, "This rinse should stabilize the wound long enough to let us build the sweat-bath that the patient needs. It will work because he only surrendered recently, and because his kind have unusual resistence to dark magic. And most especially because love motivated him. That he can still speak of love at all is a sign that he may yet be cured."
While she spoke Frodo inched the blanket over to cover what mattered most. "Uh, Elenaril," he said. "I just remembered something."
"I also used a teensy bit of dragon's voice the night before last, to persuade Bergil not to come for you. I, ah, just wanted to hold my options open, while I thought things through."
"I see. And in that one choice, you cut off your options without even realizing it. Still, your honesty with me now is an excellent sign. Now, who brought the oil-cloth?" A matron stepped forward with the stiff, slick roll. "Thank you, Falcon." At Elenaril's instructions, the women tucked it under Frodo's thigh and held the ends up, and then slipped a shallow basin between the cloth and his leg. Now Elenaril poured her pungent, stinging tea, as hot as he could stand, directly onto the wound. He gasped, and for a minute blacked out, but not from the heat--he felt his heart suddenly burn like a strangled limb getting blood again at last. Elenaril irrigated the cut thoroughly while the room spun into darkness punctuated with painful flashes of light. But then his head and vision cleared as she bound his wound for him. She handed back his breeches, and when he had trouble finding the strength to pull them on she bade Tamarisk help him; he felt too far gone to care.
"Now try saying the name, yourself," she said to him.
"El..." He took a deep breath. "Elber..." sweat broke out on his brow. "Elbereth."
She smiled so broadly that he saw dimples in the scar. "Yes. That is the name. Elbereth. Well done, Frodo."
He lay back on his cot, exhausted, almost on the verge of sleep. But when he saw Elenaril puff hair away from her mouth he murmured "Bangs," before he could stop himself.
"Bangs?" Elenaril asked.
"For your hair. My sister Ruby has a birthmark on her brow, but nobody knows because she wears bangs. I...I guess that's kind of a funny word for it, now that you mention it. It's a hobbit fashion. Girls will comb their hair over their faces, and then cut the front part just above their eyes."
Elenaril smiled. "Or in my case, perhaps above the lip will do. Thank you, Frodo--that is a useful wedding gift, and if the observation seems a bit indiscreet, I acknowledge the kindliness behind it. Apprentices, you will notice that pepper-bay tea has an instant effect in restoring at least a part of the patient's personality--but it will be short-lived, unless we take the next step soon. We must sweat the dragon's blood out of him."
"Sweat...what does that entail, exactly?"
"You will see, my friend. Some find it something of an ordeal, while others enjoy every minute of it. I cannot predict how you will fare, but in the end it will do you all the good you need."
"Elenaril, I have said things, done things...I...I don't even know where to begin or how to apologize--it all seems so crazy right now that it scares me!"
"No need, Frodo. People say crazy things when they are ill."
"But I...I made a very bad choice, didn't I?"
She laughed when she said, "Yes, you did!" and somehow the laughter took about a ton of weight off his shoulders, and he laughed, too, and so did the younger women around him.
Elenaril tipped her head, listening. "Mattie," she said, "I heard you come in, and I can hear you breathing in the stairwell. We could use your help, dear."
Mattie came up the stairs, glowering, defiantly turning her unsteadiness into a swagger. "My help?" she drawled without a trace of stuffiness. "Why don't you let Master Run-Other-People's-Lives help himself? He's so good at saving the rest of the world."
Frodo tried to sit up. "Mattie, I am soooo sorry..."
"Save your stinkin' breath! Tell me, Beebee--why should I do anything for him? Why should I do one cursed, fornicatin' thing for him?"
"Well, he did save your life just the other day."
"After I saved his--and not the first time, either. Oh, we're more than square."
Elenaril actually smiled. "And..."
"I do take note that you've been hovering about in the stairwell for some strange reason."
Mattie mumbled a few more cusswords, but softly this time, under her breath as she stuck her fists in her pockets. "Aye, well, what of it? A gal gets curious, that's all."
"Tell me Mattie--can you ride?"
Defiance lit her eyes again. "I've ridden worse than this," she said with a shrug. "Why?"
"Because Frodo's life, soul, and sanity depend on you obtaining a bundle of withy-wands twice my height. You are the only one in Seaside with a horse at the moment, and probably the only soul besides me who would know where to find willows in Nurnen. I know you feel angry with Frodo right now, but will you do that for us, please? As swiftly as you can?"
Mattie scowled, squinting her swollen eyes at him. "Maybe..." For a long moment she glared, then sighed for all the world like he had over breakfast. "Oh, Morgoth take you!" She stamped her foot and stormed out of the chamber. Soon they heard the jingle of horse-harness and hoofs outside the window, and then galloping fading into the distance.
Again Elenaril smiled. "It seems there is hope for more than one who believes in love."
Frodo said, "That depends on whether she comes back with withy-wands."