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 17, Part 114
A Wedding in the Land of Shadow
(March 1, 1452)

The sort of chill wind that blew in those parts now whistled and moaned through the streets of Seaside, and in the air above, setting the clouds shuttling overhead, so that moment by moment dimness closed on them, and then gave way to sunshine and a warming of the bones, and then shadow once more, and again the sudden relief of light and warmth, like the very air around them breathed, inhaled light and exhaled gloom in a series of bittersweet sighs. Somehow this exchange comforted Frodo and cleared his head of his errors of the night before. He saw the same change refresh Bergil and Fishenchips beside him. Mattie had never felt any trouble to begin with, smiling in her pallor, but she had scarcely touched her pipe; she almost seemed normal as she walked with them, her harp held in her arms, resembling nothing so much as a young hobbit lad dreaming on his feet of his first foray into love. The clouds blocked the sun again and Frodo shook his head; how much love could Sauron even allow the bard, anyway?
 
All but Mattie gasped when they came out into the Town Square. The herbwives had found some early-flowering boughs of a kind unknown to Frodo, and made of these a bower, dizzying in fragrance, delicate in yellow tint. Old Kila chuckled at the sight of the arriving men and hobbit, and whispered something to little Tamarisk. The girl promptly poured something green into four flagons and brought them over on a tray. Frodo saw that Hando and Harding, and all the sailors, as well as the rest of their guests from the night before, already sipped this beverage.
 
"Go ahead," Tamarisk said. "'Twill make ye feel better. Ye too, Mattie--'twill do ye good, though ya feel it not." Frodo smelled sourfruit juice in it, and aromatic herbs, and something sweet, but when he drank he felt more than tasted it, felt it like walking back in the green health of the Shire, soft grass between his toes and gentle sunlight on his face. He closed his eyes to take deep swallows, let its refreshment spread out cool and rich from his chest, melting his discomforts.
 
When he opened his eyes again he saw Fishenchips speaking softly to a huddle of sailors. It seemed the man had not lost all his old life after all. Yet something had changed. Frodo saw thick arms embrace Fish, one pair after another. Survivors do not discriminate so much, he supposed. Frodo drew near just in time to hear a gruff voice say, "Tha's good. Leech wanted somebody t'follow in his trade. Ya go learn everthin' ya can, y'hear? T'only way t'lay his ghost to rest, I think."
 
The conversation cut short at the harp's first notes, dulcet on the blustery air. Mattie stepped forward and sang an old Breeland wedding song:
 
Gather the elders and gather the young,
Gather the light-hearts and grave,
For what we create here shall always be sung,
Wherever love makes our hearts brave.
 
So long as the flower dress bright for the bees,
So long as the earth loves the plough,
So long as the river the riverbed please,
So long as the wave lift the prow,
 
So long shall a lad and his maiden unite,
So long shall they pledge their hearts true,
So long shall the young ones be born to delight,
So long shall the old greet the new.
 
Light love is a flower, but marriage a tree–
Light love blooms awhile and is spent.
Light love shall dance gaily for spring's fleeting glee,
And then in harsh weather be bent.
 
But the tree blooms in bushels unmatched by the flower,
Then after the blossoms bears fruit!
And after that sweetness the autumn's bright fire
Braves its colors from crown unto root,
 
Still later the hard times in winter strip bare
To the shapely essentials of boughs,
Yet spring again after blooms brilliant and fair!
For what flowers can't guess the tree knows.
 
In less than a season the field-flower dies,
But the tree grows year in and year out.
Through the sweet times and hard times the branches still rise
And the trunk grows more hardy and stout.
 
So gather the children and gather the old,
Bear witness: two graft to one tree!
The stripling made gentle, the maiden made bold,
And both bound to one root are set free!
 
So long as the flower dress bright for the bees,
So long as the earth loves the plough,
So long as the river the riverbed please,
So long as the wave lift the prow,
 
So long shall a lad and his maiden unite,
So long shall they pledge their hearts true,
So long shall the young ones be born to delight,
So long shall the old greet the new."

 
The sun chose just that moment to come out from behind a cloud and spilled out on the plaza a diamond light. Then suddenly Frodo saw, as surely as if the birds had paused mid-flight in the air, that time had stopped for Bergil, that eternity filled his eyes and curled in his wondering smile; it seemed as though he had become an elf, and not just any elf, but that same Thingol who had passed ages under a whirling sky while staring into the eyes of Melian the Maia.
 
Frodo almost disbelieved that he could move, himself, but he did, he turned to where Bergil gazed, and there the women carried into the plaza a chair on driftwood poles, and upon that chair, head held high and as stately as a queen, rode Elenaril. The women had dressed her in a robe of a breeze-fine linen normally saved back for the summer heat, now dyed a brilliant red that fluttered like a flame amid the grays and browns of Mordor-wear. Yet underneath it, glimmering through the windswept slits in deference to her Gondor heritage, she wore a gown of virgin wool as white as any hand could bleach it. A veil of scarlet linen-gauze likewise swathed her head, with wisps of white locks wafting just within--cut, Frodo saw, into bangs ending just above the lip.
 
To hold the veil in place, though the wind toyed with its lightness, she bore a crown like none that Frodo had ever seen--an incredible confection of wire and sparkling beads, dripping with prism-pendants, tiny mirrors, and spiral-wrapped loops, hanging even down to her cheeks or trembling on her brow, setting off a faint musical tinkling about her. The sun-rays danced upon her ornaments with kisses like sparks, and then the clouds gathered in to cool the sight, but only to let the sun flash afterwards again, all the more brightly as the mind forgot and remembered brilliance. And if some of the beads had gone missing, and if a couple of mirrors showed a little tarnish, no one paid it any mind. For as Mattie told him later, they had found the headdress in an attic of the pub, the forgotten plaything of the mistress of a general of Harad, but she had never worn it so grandly, nor deserved it more, than this scarred, courageous Herbwife of Bristlescrub.
 
The apprentices set down the chair, their robes blowing about them; Frodo saw that they had lashed it together as Elenaril had trained them to, for the transporting of those wounded who must keep to a sitting position, but they had garlanded it with fragrant herbs more fair than flowers to the blind woman that they honored. Immediately Bergil stepped forward without waiting to see how others might direct the rite, and took her hand, and helped her to her feet.
 
But this apparently pleased old Kila, who dimpled as she waved for the women to remove the chair and quickly make a circle around the couple. Underneath the bower, Bergil and Elenaril cared nothing for what anyone did around them, for Bergil gazed with rapture on his bride as though he drew his life from the very sight of her, while she whose sight was touch held fast his hands and drew life back, ecstasy in every line of her posture. As surely as he felt the Glass of May upon his own breast, Frodo felt how that life passed back and forth between the two and grew with every passing, till it seemed the very air must burst with the joy and the fullness of it.
 
The women linked hands and did a pretty little dance about the couple to a tune that Mattie plucked from the harp, circle 'round and circle again, though the couple knew it not, or if they did, they just assumed it natural that all should revolve around their love. And the women sang what songs old Kila dictated, in language strange to western ears, but those two heard no sound beyond the beating of each other's hearts as Bergil slowly pressed his bride against his breast and she laid there her head, her cheek against him, his arms around her.
 
Then "Ow!" cried Bergil, snapping from his trance at once when Kila prized back his left hand and scratched it with a knife. "What are you doing, old woman?" he cried, outraged to see her wound Elenaril the same.
 
"Quick!" The old crone hissed. "Press the cuts together--let no contagion in!" She forced palm against palm, then bound them together with red thread.
 
"None wed this way in Gondor," Bergil protested. But Elenaril clasped his hand and said nothing.
 
"She knows," Old Kila chuckled. "Those who have suffered much understand--blood seals everything." In more formal tones she pronounced, "We are a poor people, a slave people we have been, and no dowries can we bring, nor brideprice to this wedding--not silver, not gold, not jewels. No kin stand here beside us to negotiate the shift of goods that buys a man a bride, that purchases safekeeping fer a woman's home. But he shall pay her with his blood, and she shall pay him likewise--and by that price shall bind more closely than the richest prince and princess of Harad. As yer blood mingles, so shall ye mingle lives, each pouring out yerselves fer the other and coming back the richer fer it. A bride bought with jewels, a groom paid off with gold--what good are these beside these two true hearts that give each other of their very selves?" To everyone's surprise a tear ran down the aged face. "I...I had all manner of rituals in mind, fit fer the haughtiest of my land. But all rites dwarf in light of the love that I see here."
 
In a soft and throaty voice Bergil said, "I would add this, if I may. It is the custom in Gondor to ask the blessing of the Lords of the West, and of the One that they serve beyond the West, for lifelong unions such as ours. And indeed..." and here his voice shook as if the man wept, though Frodo couldn't quite see his face, turned away from the crowd, "...indeed..." he began again, halted by an unmistakable sob, "...we have come together again despite such fearful barriers that we must be blest already. That we both live, and meet again, and stand once more within each other's arms, is sign enough that Heaven favors this our marriage..." and then his voice grew fierce and loud, "...and none shall ever hold us back again!" He snapped the red thread to pull aside the veil and kiss his wife like the two of them needed no breath save what they drew in from each other. The sky brightened, and dimmed, and brightened again three times before they drew back a small space.
 
Kila nodded, then stepped away from the couple; at this signal the circle of women broke up. But just as Frodo thought the wedding over, the youngest apprentices, those hardly more than children, ran giggling through the crowd with bags of grain, and pelted the couple with it, who laughed at the rain of prosperity upon them, Bergil in surprise and Elenaril for joy. And Frodo marveled at this people, who could go so often hungry and yet save back just a little grain for this, to squander it, some would say, on a gesture--and yet oh how every heart swelled at the meaning in that gesture, the gift of hope in future harvests, to a pair who could bear famine or plenty equally well together in the shelter of their love.
 
Kila's traditions demanded (for the most lordly Harad weddings) that Bergil take Elenaril up onto his saddle and ride off to their honeymoon together. The poor man's equivalent would be to escort her to his home without further fanfare into an immediate shouldering of the drudgeries of life, but that did not seem a suitable send-off for the first wedding in Mordor within living memory. Accordingly, Mattie volunteered old Stumblehoof for the office of Bridal Steed (having no need of a horse while on vacation) and now the maidens led the rather surprised but proud mare up, garlanded and ribboned for the occasion. Mattie pulled down Stumblehoof's head to whisper something in her ear; Frodo thought he caught a wisp of song. Then Bergil took over, the mare willing enough to let him lift Elenaril up first, then take his position behind her, wrapping his cloak about her against the wind, his arms protectively circling her to take up the reins as she leaned back against his chest in uttermost contentment. The wind blew back her veil and played with her hair as though in love, and the smile it revealed, despite all the scarring above, shone as bright as any star for the sheer joy of the moment.
 
Frodo watched them ride off for Bristlescrub and parts beyond that Elenaril knew of. Then, as Fishenchips pitched in to clean up after the wedding and the bachelor party before, he himself trudged on back to the barn beside his tower home, there to hitch his own steed up to the little cart. He waved as Bleys carried him past the others still at work, but his aches came back on him and a weariness of soul. He turned his donkey towards the beach. With his servant occupied in fulfilling the household's civic duties, it rested on Frodo to gather the driftwood that they needed by himself.
 

Previous Installment Main Page Next Installment