I Will Not Say the Day is Done
Nor Bid the Stars Farewell
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 11, Part 108
Waiting for the Withy-Wands
(February 29, 1452)
Under Elenaril's direction, the apprentice herbwives, with surprising swiftness of hand, sewed as many animal skins together as Seaside could provide, though it cost much of Frodo's coin. Meanwhile, Bergil and Fishenchips scraped out a sort of broad bowl in the hard clay soil before the Tower House, digging a small pit in its center, and they fashioned a fire-pit near at hand to the east, facing the bowl. Red-gold clay caked the skin and clothes of the toiling men, cracking with their moves like a network of premature wrinkles. Dimly Frodo felt through his lens a glow of patient weariness shining off of them, pains taken on his behalf, something important that he should remember, something painful that he wished would go away. No--he didn't wish that at all. Only his leg did.
Punish the leg. Walk. Walk in a circle. No use trying to sit still anyway, not with dragon-blood jumping in the veins, blurring some thoughts, sharpening others like a lightning-bolt of rage or greed shearing through the clouds. Walk. Keep moving. Hands clench and unclench, words mutter under the breath, arguments shoot back and forth between the blood of Míryave and that other. Walk while the hands clench and the head twitches and both the selfish and the kindly halves of the brain keep asking, Where is she? Keep moving just like dragging Mattie around and around and around and where the blazes is she?
"She will come," Elenaril reassured Frodo after listening to his uneven steps, staggering through his cirque. "Now rest--you do your injury no good."
"Rest, she says," he snarled. "Oh yes, easy for you to say. Your life doesn't depend on a poppy fiend who has probably forgotten her errand by now, even if she bothered to pursue it at all, the way she hates me, and assuming she didn't simply fall off her horse along the way."
"Sit!" Elenaril ordered him. "Frodo, you but hasten the poison coursing through your veins. You are starting to lose yourself again."
Frodo sat down on the ground, with a little cry of pain when he flexed his overtaxed thigh to do it. He sulked a moment before grumbling, "You can't deny I'm right, whatever my frame of mind. I hang upon the thread of a most unreliable savior."
"She will return," Elenaril insisted. She knelt and then she groped about on the ground on her hands and knees. "She will return, you will receive your healing, and by tomorrow you will see everything in a happier light again--just in time for Bergil's bachelor-party." She flashed a smile in his general direction, but he did not return it.
"A happier light--what does a blind woman know about light, anyway?"
In a simple voice Elenaril said, "I know what shines upon my heart." And suddenly Frodo felt so ashamed that it left him half-sick. Unconcerned, Elenaril picked up a large stone, held it to her cheek a moment, and then slipped it into a pocket. She felt about her again, creeping a little further. And the men kept shoveling and shaping, bent to their work like they'd never stand up straight again if that was what it took to heal their friend.
In a shaky voice, Frodo muttered, "Dragon's blood, dragon-sickness, fever, Sauron's ghost...how many ways does Mordor have to drive a hobbit batty, anyway?" He felt like any minute his nerves would shoot him clear up into the sky and burst him like a firecracker. "And, uh...what are you doing, Elenaril?"
"Searching for rocks." She held one between her palms a moment, then shook her head and laid it back down carefully in the exact spot from which she removed it. And then she crawled on a little ways, and started all over again.
"But there's plenty of..."
"They have to be the right rocks. You have to sense something from them; I cannot describe it. They have to consent to help."
"Rocks?" Frodo asked faintly.
"And I thought I was the one going crazy."
She chuckled at that, gathered a number of good-sized stones in the folds of her robe, almost heavier than she could carry. While Bergil and Fishenchips piled all of the earth that they had excavated into a steep-sided mound to the west of the bowl, flattening it on top, Elenaril tumbled her stones beside the firepit, joining others that she had already gathered. Then she straightened with a little groan and said, "Fishenchips, could you be a dear and smash up the rest of the chairs for me? And the cabinet--there is a cabinet in the room where you have guested me. That will burn nicely."
"Yes'm," Fish said, while Frodo sputtered.
"I won't have a stick of furniture left!"
"Oh, I will leave you each your cots," Elenaril said. "Sleeping on the floor is not healthful in Mordor."
"How generous of you!" Frodo spat.
Bergil looked up from smoothing the earth with his shovel, dashing the sweat out of his eyes. "Generous indeed," he said. "Remember that she does all this for you, Frodo."
Frodo's eyes flashed, but then he trembled a moment and hung his head. "I am sorry," he said in a softer voice. "I'm afraid that half the time I don't know what I'm saying." He fidgeted, glancing about. "Where is she, anyway?"
"Mattie will be here." Elenaril went over to Bergil and said a few words. He left, taking most of the apprentices with him. The eldest women remained, now sewing layers of leather and fur on top of the layers already in place.
Frodo sat and wrung his hands. His eyes kept stealing northwards towards the Sea of Nurnen, but he couldn't see it from here, not with so many buildings in between. Stupid buildings. How he longed to crush them all! "Elenaril," he asked, "What would happen to me if Mattie never bothers to gather withy-wands?"
"Oh, I suppose we would try to rig up something else."
"But what if you fail? What happens if I don't get this treatment?"
The scarred lips grimaced for a moment. "You would at least feel no pain," she said at last.
Suddenly he wanted to feel pain, very much. He gritted his teeth and forced his thoughts back to his mother and father, and all of his brothers and sisters, and especially dear little May who gave him the glass. And he felt the battle in his thigh shoot up like a jab into his heart. "What would I feel?" he gasped.
"Not much, I fear. You could still take delight in wealth, and power, and inflicting pain on others. But you could no longer look out over that range of mountains and see the beauty of its dusky peaks against the sky's bright blue. Oh yes, Frodo, I do remember the mountains of Mordor, though many years have passed since I could see. But if the dragon-blood takes you fully, you could gaze right on them with two good eyes and they would utterly elude you. You could only stare at them and wonder if they held anything worth mining." She shuddered and said, "You would live, after a manner of speaking, but you would become like Saruman of old."
He shuddered, too. "Thank you," he said in a quiet voice, "for fighting for my life--my real life, I mean."
"The fight is not over yet," she said, and went over to inspect by fingertips the sewing of the skins.
At her direction Fishenchips arranged the largest pieces of wood in a kind of box that air could pass through, and on top of these Elenaril herself arrayed the stones. Next Fishenchips buried the entire structure in more wood, chair-legs and planks and bureau-knobs, while Elenaril stuffed old, dried herbs and leaves into the crevices. Fishenchips set the whole thing afire with a spark of his hook, and soon the splintered, varnished wood blistered and blackened and cracked, and the flames shot up, and the smoke spiraled upwards to heaven.
After awhile Bergil returned, new scratches marking streaks of red darker than the color of the clay. A number of the neighbors came with him, and they all dragged fresh-cut thorn-bushes, which they wrestled into a circle-wall around the bowl and the porch. Apprentice herbwives laid down the bundles of wild desert sage that they had gathered, then huddled over a bag, passing out little jars among themselves, after which they moved among the men to dab salves upon the scratches, before those ills unique in Middle-Earth to Mordor could take hold. Fortunately no injuries went deep enough to demand more stringent methods. "The stones will take long to heat," Elenaril explained. "We will have to proceed well into the night."
Bergil nodded wearily, leaning against the porch. "Fish and I will stand guard, then."
"No," Elenaril said. "You will not." In posture she seemed to gaze far off into the distance, for she had turned by instinct, by her feel of the lay of sun and shade for that time of day, to the northwest, towards the distant Shire. Frodo found himself rising to stand by her, despite new pain. "You two are the closest thing that Frodo has to male kin in this land. You must go into the hut with him, and give him your support." Long she stood, while the women lined the bowl with soft mats of velvet-leafed sage, as though they feathered a fragrant nest. Then Elenaril shook herself, and turned her body towards their voices. "Ask Hando and Harding to guard; you can rely on them, I think."
Darkly Frodo said, "Have you forgotten that I threatened to kill Hand O' Plenty when I first arrived?"
Bergil actually chuckled and said, "Oh, that was several madnesses ago--he has quite gotten over it."
Frodo would have retorted if not for the sound that he caught before all others--a rhythm on the earth, at first more felt through the soles of his feet than heard, that set his heart racing just as fast. Soon they all could catch the beat--the thunder of galloping hooves. In the stable nearby Bleys brayed for joy. Now the horseshoes clattered, sharp and loud upon the village stones, and then sped up again for a final sprint as Mattie and Stumblehoof charged around the corner, a huge bundle of fresh withies strapped to the horse's back at least twice the hobbit's size. The old mare frothed and heaved, but her dark eyes shone in a kind of animal excitement, and she danced about the courtyard, shaking out her mane, before her rider could calm her enough to dismount.
Mattie patted Stumblehoof's neck. "I didn't know the ol' girl had it in her," she said fondly, "but every now and then she remembers she's a horse of the King's Post."
Something crumpled inside Frodo and through it a flood of heat rushed into the cold places in his heart; he hardly heard his own gasp at the new pain flaring in his thigh. Quickly he hobbled into the house; he would have run if his leg permitted. Tears ran down his cheeks as he leaned on the chairless table, his nails dug into the wood. He growled at himself, "Get a grip, Frodo!" but he did not want to get a grip, he wanted to weep and weep till he flushed the poison out.
He heard the horse go past the house, into the stable. He heard the barn door open and close, open and close, and then he heard the door to his home open, as well. He did not look up from the table's rough grain. "Frodo?" came a soft tenor voice behind him. "Frodo, was I so terrible that you run away from me even when I travel far for your survival?" A rein-callused hand brushed his shoulder.
He whirled around and grabbed the startled hobbit in the fiercest hug of his life, kissing her in a bruising fervor, pressing her close with his fingers tangled in her curls and his other arm tight around her waist. And he didn't care that her mouth tasted like smoke, or that she smelled of sweat and horse, he didn't care that she felt hard and bony in his arms or dressed in male attire, only that she came back, she came back and she didn't hate him. His leg ached like a madness and he didn't care about that, either.
Outside Elenaril and her apprentices made from the withy-wands the framework of a dome to later fit over the bowl in the earth, and they stitched onto it the skins that they had sewn, while Bergil and Fishenchips stoked the hottest fire that they could upon the volunteer stones. The women had nearly completed the dome, and the furniture had fallen into coals, before Frodo and Mattie came out again, Frodo limping, leaning on the other hobbit's shoulder, while, just for this treasured moment, the dragon-blood thrashed in a frenzy of defeat.