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 14, Part 111
Responsibility to Irresponsibility
(February 30, 1452)

Frodo woke to a morning overflowing with promise, rich with a wealth of sunlight spilling down through the tall slit window above him. Still lying down, he stretched in sheer luxury, his skin feeling almost divinely clean against the sheets, then threw out his arms to either side and lay there staring at the ceiling-beams in utter peace. He felt even cleaner inside, lightened of a load of grime so insidious that he hadn't realized how it had weighed him down until liberated from its burden. Softly he said, "I doubt if the King hisself could have given me a better healing." And to top it off, to put a crown upon the day, he had, instead of work, Bergil's bachelor party to look forward to. He wondered what entertainments awaited--and then suddenly sat bolt upright.
 
"Omigoodness! I'm the Best Hobbit! I have to have it all ready by noon!" He vaulted out of bed and darted about the room grabbing clothes and scrambling into them. "Where do I begin?" he muttered, tripping on his own pantsleg when he tried to pull on his britches while simultaneously rummaging for a clean shirt. "Where do I go? Oh, I should never have sent my men to do all my errands for me--I know nothing about Seaside!" One hand fumbled with his waistcoat buttons while the other tried to comb some order into his curls. "Why oh why did I go to bed with wet hair? What if it sticks straight up like that all day long?"
 
But by the time he tied his scarf about his throat he had begun to sort out plans. "We still have enough elvish and dwarvish provisions for a bit of a splurge--there's an entire string of dwarvish sausage that had better get used up soon, anyway. And I can afford...no, I can't afford to roast a kid, not with the coin left to me after buying all those skins...but perhaps several chickens, a couple of the poorest layers, yes, that'll do. We've got no time to cook a whole goat before midday, anyway."
 
He slid down the bannister for better speed, spiraling 'round and 'round. "Let's see...stuffing. Well, we don't lack for stale bread, at least, and surely the women gathered enough sage to have some left over...Yes, I can do it." His bare feet hit the bottom floor and took off at a run straight out the door while Fishenchips called out in alarm for him to come back and eat breakfast. "There won't be mead, have to break tradition there...have to settle for that awful black stuff...but it's not so bad after a few stiff gulps. And where to...of course. The old public house--it should still be pretty clean from the last time, just need a little dusting up." He trotted towards the mayor's house. "And how to find musicians...Elenaril booked them last time...but I can't ask Elenaril, of course...there's always Mattie...but she's a girl...but nobody knows that except my household and the herbalists...Mattie it is, then, for music, with whatever others she can get together. Folks would wonder if we didn't invite her, after all."
 
Frodo found Mayor Aloe in her courtyard, dictating to a scribe while sailors-turned-farmers came and went at her bidding, each assigned an empty hut and a patch of ground to till. The stunned look on their faces showed that they only just now realized the enormity of learning a whole new way of life from scratch, with no guarantee of meals from here on out, not even the guarantee of their own hard labor, if the weather took a spiteful turn. He made a mental note to start some field classes after the wedding.
 
Aloe looked down her nose at him. "And what is so urgent, Master Gardner, that ye run into me court with yer weskit buttoned up crooked?"
 
"Bergil'sbachelorpartyneedthekeystothepub!" he exclaimed, and then gasped for breath. "And any other help you can give me, Ma'am, if you could be so kind."
 
She gawked at him. "Help in what?"
 
Elenaril's fair voice called out from some chamber within. "If you render the hobbit whatever aid he asks, my herbwives will open up a house of healing here in Seaside." Frodo smiled, knowing that Elenaril had planned such a house anyway, having more trainees than Bristlescrub could use. He heard Kila whisper something harsh, but Elenaril just giggled.
 
Aloe insisted, "But for what? I couldn't understand a word the little critter said."
 
Elenaril's voice wafted out, quite relaxed and happy, along with the scent of something perfumed. "Men take on a grave responsibility when they marry, for the rest of their lives. So it is the custom in the West to throw an all-male party for a man about to marry, wherein he purges irresponsibility from his system before he embraces his new state."
 
Aloe frowned. "You are asking mayoral aid, with no little urgency, for a party?"
 
Frodo bowed. "It is my duty," he explained. "I'm the Best H...whatever."
 
With knit brows Aloe asked, "And what does the woman get out of this? Or is her responsibility any less?"
 
Again that carefree giggle bubbled from the room within. "Have I not submitted to merciless pampering upon Kila's command?" And then he heard her murmur, "A little lower and to the left, Sandstorm--there. That is the muscle. Mmmmmmm..."
 
In the end Frodo left with the keys to Public House #3462, plus five whole chickens past their prime for laying, four or five addresses for musicians of good repute who owed the Mayor a favor, a deck of marked cards that Aloe thought might come in handy by way of entertainment, a wizened and sullen-looking monkey from Umbar alleged to know tricks if you played the right tune, several armfuls of straw garlands left over from the First Planting festival, two and a half boxes of elvish nut-cakes that mysteriously never made it to ration-distribution and had his name plainly written on the packaging in silver letters, a cask of dwarvish pickled mushrooms that he'd never even guessed had arrived (the seal broken and about a cupful missing) a well-cured cheese from Aloe's private smoke-house, a couple of moth-eaten but elaborate Haradrim rugs, a cart to carry it all in, the entire contingent of ex-sailors to help out on the promise that if they worked without coin they could attend the party, and Mattie.
 
Mattie rode in the cart tuning her harp (while the monkey watched her closely) and Frodo led Bleys to the pub. It never ceased to amaze him how much the muscular little animal could haul. But after a few steps Bleys let out an indignant bray and stopped cold. Frodo turned to Mattie and said, smiling, "You'll have to walk, I'm afraid. Donkeys don't stand on ceremony when it comes to letting you know if a load exceeds their standard by a pound too much." Mattie didn't seem to hear. Frodo watched how deftly, how steadily, her fingers adjusted the sensitive harpstrings, and his smile fell away. He reached up and tugged at her arm till she looked up, her pupils tiny, and he told her, "Walk!" She hopped out of the cart with the same dreamy smile he had seen in his vision in the withy-dome, and he felt anew that horrible tearing of the heart. Would he have to let go of her over and over and over?
 
The monkey screeched his indignation, hopping up and down atop a rolled up rug. Mattie laughed and said, "You have disappointed our friend, Trickster, here. He likes the plucking of harpstrings, even without a tune."
 
"Trickster will not be disappointed for long," he said rather stiffly. "I'd like you to go and engage musicians for me, if you would." He handed her the addresses for the musicians, along with a list of ingredients that he'd left behind at the Tower House, which he desired her to fetch. Mattie sketched him an ironic bow, whipping her cap from her curls, and strutted off humming to herself, with all the posturing of an insolent young boy. Frodo told himself that he just wanted to get her out of his sight, but he couldn't help but watch her disappear into her alleyways for as long as he could still see her, as he led the now-docile donkey onward.
 
But the delay worked to his advantage. Fishenchips came running and caught up with him, a sausage skewered on his hook and a slice of toast in his hand that glistened with the last smear of elvish apple-butter. "Master, eat!" he ordered, holding his arms out to Frodo.
 
That brought Frodo's smile back. "My own father couldn't have said it better to my namesake," he said, and then nibbled on his breakfast as he walked. While Fishenchips wiped off his hook with a handkerchief, Frodo told him about the moonshiner; as soon as they reached the public house Frodo sent Fish off with Bleys and the cart to order something suitable. "A pity," Frodo thought. "Mead would suit the occasion so much better, and brews up so easily--if only the bees of Mordor did not guard their honey so aggressively!"
 
Frodo and the sailors had the place all swept up and had begun to hang the garlands when Mattie came back, walking backwards as she conducted the cockeyed music of a motley band that followed her, a basket of provisions strapped to her back. She winked at Frodo as she turned and entered. "They shall play on-key once they can settle in one spot and I can warm them up a bit," she said. The monkey perked up at the sound, leaped off of the bar onto the little stage, and watched the musicians set up with hopeful, beady eyes.
 
Frodo thanked her for the basket and took off for the kitchen. Soon the sounds of tuning and practicing filled the air as he dashed from spit to cupboard to chopping block to bubbling pot and back and forth, trying to time everything just right, trying to sort out the ingredients of seven different recipes cooking simultaneously. He had never ventured to whip up anything near so ambitious before, all by himself, but the aroma on the air told him that so far he had it right. Mattie found him breathless and sweaty when she popped in while giving her band a break.
 
"They're doin' great!" she exclaimed, throwing her arms around Frodo while he tried to chop onions. "All they needed was a little loosenin' up and man, they got the inspiration!"
 
"For heaven's sake be careful!" he gasped. "For a second there you nearly gave the world a second Frodo Nine-Fingers!" He wriggled from her grasp just in time to grab a boiling-over pot and shift it to a cooler part of the stove. Then he took a deep breath, turned, and let the breath out all at once in a sigh as he took a good look at Mattie. "Speaking of loosening up," he said, "don't go overboard before the party begins--you can hardly keep your eyes open."
 
She just laughed. "I'll allow as to how the musicians may have passed a bit of a bottle around.."
 
"Don't lie," he said softly, shouldering past her to gather the onions into a pan. "You don't smell like grog. You smell like smoke." He added the mushrooms, put the pan on the stove and turned to her. "You promised!"
 
"That I'd never lie to you? Now did I say I partook of the same thing that the others did?" She giggled and wagged a finger at him, but he did not smile. "Frodo, Frodo, we mustn't leap to conclusions, must we?"
 
"You promised me you would quit."
 
"And I will--after the wedding. Oh, it'd be a splendid occasion indeed, if Bergil and Elenaril were to marry with me sneezing and sniffling all through the ceremony, now wouldn't it?"
 
He heard the onions sizzling behind him and he didn't care. "And what excuse will you offer me next time?"
 
"What a self-righteous little hypocrite you are!" A snarl twisted her face. "Lecture me, will you, when you fully intend to drink yourself silly with Bergil and Fish tonight, along with about a half a dozen landlocked sailors--do you deny it?"
 
"Mattie, there is a proper time and place for every..."
 
"Oh, don't I know it, Master Mayor's son!" and she slammed the door on her way out. He smelled burning onions behind him; cursing, he grabbed the pan off the fire. The potholder slipped and he burned a fingertip; he spat out another orc-word and sucked his injury.
 
She has a point, you know. About hypocrisy. A defining characteristic of my enemies, I fear. You ought to disassociate yourself from them.
 
"Hello, Sauron," Frodo grated. "I expected you to show up later, after a few drinks."
 
Oh, I intend to. I wouldn't miss this party for the world. Unless you consent to...uh...pardon me, Frodo, but wouldn't those have been better sauteed in butter? Ah, forgive me; I forget. You have no butter. The King is not so generous with his provisions.
 
Frodo sifted in his flour carefully, stirring out the slightest hints of lumps. "I had no idea you knew anything about cooking, Sauron."
 
I have devoured the ghosts of more than a few chefs in my day--sooner or later all of my servants disappointed me, I fear.
 
"You're disgusting," Frodo said, adding a cupful of spirits and some other ingredients to his sauce. "But don't put in your two cent's worth in my kitchen."
 
Or what? You'll throw me out?
 
"Why are you here? I should think that Elenaril gave you enough of a thrashing to keep you at bay for awhile, at least so long as I stay sober." He drew his chickens out of the oven and then pulled his mitts off to drizzle sauce all over their crackling skin.
 
Oh, I am not without my resources. Mattie lends me a little bit of her power even as we speak." Sauce pooled in one spot in the crook of a chicken's wing, as Frodo froze above it. But if you but celebrate tonight with Shire brandy, I will include her into my bargain, Frodo. I will leave you both alone.
 
Frodo shook himself, got out a pastry brush, and evened up the sauce."No." he said. "No deal."
 
Oh come now! You intend to imbibe tonight anyway. What harm could possibly come of it?
 
"The harm of doing what you want me to do." He shoved the chickens back into the oven, pulled out the potato slices bubbling in cheese, and stood up.
 
You were eager enough to agree with me over the glass houses.
 
"But you did not want me to." He carried the potatoes over to the block where he chopped fresh desert herbs and sprinkled them on top. "If you want to come along for the ride, Sauron, fine! I will ignore you. But I daresay you won't enjoy it, for I shall have fun." He put the potatoes into the warming-drawer above the stove. "Plain old fashioned, ordinary fun, based on my delight that my dear friend will wed and lead a happy life." Frodo took from a basket handfuls of a little brown dried fruit that Elenaril swore could take the place of sugar when diced up, though at the moment they resembled nothing so much as sticky little cockroach bodies. "I don't expect that you can abide much in the way of happiness, drunk or sober." He forced himself to nibble one of the fruits, smiled suddenly, and started to dice with abandon.
 
I can appreciate "fun" as well as anybody. Why, at the Houses of Lamentation alone I used to spend many a merry day heating up the ol'...
 
"I don't want to hear it!" Frodo chopped dangerously close to his own thumb.
 
You need not, you know.
 
"I said n..."
 
No. I am well aware of what you said. I am also well aware that you just added to your sauce only a moment before a little Shire Brandy that you conveniently sent for from your home.
 
"Oh--that's just for cooking. I wouldn't dream of spoiling good food with Mordor grog." But Sauron said nothing in answer.
 
***
 
Bergil arrived promptly at noon (along with Harding and Hando and several other guests) just as the sailors came back, all scrubbed pink after their morning's dusty work, straightening their vests and slicking their hair. To Frodo's shock they brought with them a couple of giggling women sporting deeply rouged cheeks and blue stuff on their eyelids.
 
"Here, here!" Frodo cried, bustling up. "We only allow male guests to a bachelor party. You can bring your dates to other occasions--this is not the night for it."
 
"Oh, these are no guests," Bergil said behind him. "Merely entertainers."
 
Frodo stumbled as he turned and stared at him, jaw dropped.
 
Bergil explained. "'Tis a human custom. I did not expect you to keep such customs in the Shire..."
 
"I should say not!"
 
"...so I took it upon myself to invite them."
 
One of the women shrieked with laughter and pointed at Frodo, "Will ye look at his ruddy little cheeks, now! Ooo, the poor wee bairn!"
 
Bergil ignored her and said, "It is purely symbolic, I assure you. They will perform a...a sort of dance, and leave. That is all. They represent a last farewell from the world of temptations to which I turn my back."
 
Frodo mulled that over. "That is all, then? Just a dance?"
 
"I assure you."
 
"And this ritual...do all the men of Gondor do thus?"
 
"I have it on the finest authority that similar dancers performed at the king's own bachelor party."
 
Frodo frowned deeply, wondering why neither his father nor Frodo Baggins ever recorded one word of such a party. "I suppose we have a duty to respect tradition..."
 
"There you go!" Bergil clapped Frodo on the shoulder. "Speaking of which, here comes Fishenchips with the libations."
 
Frodo's eyes widened at the size of the barrel in the cart that Bleys struggled to haul while Fish pushed from behind. In an awestruck whisper he said, "Bury that thing, punch in a door and a couple of windows, and you'd have the makings of a hobbit-hole, right there." He ran up to his lathered beast and exclaimed, "How did you ever persuade Bleys to haul so much?"
 
Fishenchips winked. "He thought a sight better of it once he understood the value o' the cargo."
 
Frodo caught the ferment on the ass's breath just as Bleys let out a joyful bray. "You mean...you didn't!"
 
"Just a nip--they's plenty left for us, Guv."
 
Bergil himself grinned a little nervously and fidgeted while sailors unloaded the sloshing behemoth and rolled it into the building. Frodo shook his head and joined him where he stood. The Gamgees did not drink anything stronger than beer so early in the day. But nobody could stay out and socialize after dark in Mordor, so what could he do? Frodo and Bergil looked each other in the eye. The wedding would not go by any normal custom of Gondor; they didn't exactly have to keep this custom, either, if they chose not to.
 
“Osgiliath,” Frodo reminded Bergil.
 
“The Backwards River,” Bergil retorted.
 
Frodo sighed. “We are surely going to hate ourselves tomorrow.”
 
“Absolutely,” Bergil said with conviction. And then they walked in.
 

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