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 18, Part 115
First Sprouts
(March 2, 1452)

The tiny plants plucked easily from the still-moist soil, and the hobbit inhaled deeply of the earthen scent released. Side by side with the other workers, Frodo crawled through the mud between each row, to thin out the sprouts that the rest might grow strong, saving what he culled in a basket for the next meal. A number of those who toiled beside him stuffed the sprouts straight into their mouths as they went; he kept an eye on them to make sure that they didn't eat the buckwheat sprouts, which Elenaril had warned him carry poison. Though they still had a few provisions left from the bounty of Mirkwood and the Lonely Mountain (carefully rationed now with the wedding done) they had gone long without anything so fresh as this, aside from a few tough desert herbs and the lifesaving sourfruit juice.
 
At the end of his row Frodo climbed to his feet, his muddy shins and elbows cold in the wind but his heart warm and contented, if one can call it contentment when suffused with awe. Habitual awe--few but farmers and gardeners could understand. He gazed out over fields that glowed with a brilliant green mist of newborn sprouts as far as the eye could see. He marveled at his own role in the matter, sowing those selfsame seeds that once seemed dry and dead in the hand. Yet he also knew his role only a part, a consent by action to share in a mystery that existed on the earth before any child of Illuvatar had walked this land, that would continue long after he himself had died.
 
He walked over to the next row, bent down, and set to thinning again. Back in the Shire he would have stayed up on his feet the entire time, turning excess sprouts under with a hoe to provide a little extra mulch into the soil. Back in the Shire folks thought of hunger as what you feel when you come to dinner late. His coworkers smiled to see him down in the mud with them, but they respected him, too. They moved the more swiftly to any orders that he gave, knowing how he put in his share, himself, though half their size. "Maybe it's good that Bergil and Elenaril have gone for awhile--it'll give me a chance to get to know the townfolk better."
 
Frodo sat back on his heels a moment and looked over some ways to where Fishenchips used his hook on the tougher hedgerow plants, to make sure that the man only uprooted those that strayed too far to the side; they needed those plants to grow in thickly together. Some ways beyond his servant, though, Frodo saw that strange little girl again; she stared at him for a moment, the way that a rabbit will stare briefly at a fox before scampering away. It seemed he saw her often these days, but always from a distance. Sometimes she threw rocks at Frodo, but they never quite reached him. Sometimes she appeared poised to approach him, but she always changed her mind at the last minute. Nobody seemed to know her, and that in itself struck him as strange in a community like this.
 
Frodo half-rose, but he saw no sign of her, now; he went back to work, shaking his head. "I cannot help her if she won't stand still!" He reached the end of his row, looked up at the sky, and stood up to declare the noonday halt. Everyone rose to their feet as stiffly as himself; even his clothes felt stiff, with the mud half-dried on them. He loosened the scarf about his neck; the sun felt almost hot today--good news for the plants now, a worry in the coming seasons. Folks had warned him that by summer Mordor would become one great furnace.
 
Fishenchips came over and said, "You go on without me, Guv--Cork and some o' the others have invited me over t'lunch."
 
"Cork? Is he one of your old shipmates?"
 
Fish nodded. "We gots some reminiscin' to do."
 
"Then you should do it." Frodo tried not to let a smile ruin the solemnity of the moment. "Just make sure you don't come back to the field seeing double; it makes it a bit harder to find anything so slender as a sprout."
 
Fishenchips repressed a grin, himself. "After night before last I'll watch meself, sir." And he went off with his old new friends.
 
Proudly Frodo carried his basket of sprouts to the cart, admiring their tender color, picturing how they would taste dressed in that oil he'd been steeping with some desert aromatics. He might even leave some for Fishenchips, if the sailor came home in any state to appreciate them. Then he glanced up and saw Mattie leaning against his cart, watching him. To his chagrin he saw her smoking her pipe.
 
"Here now!" he chided, setting his basket in the back. "I thought you promised to give that up after the wedding." Then Frodo saw that she did not merely lean on the cart, she held onto it. Grumbling under his breath, he pulled her arm over his shoulder and helped her into the cart. When he sat to the reins she smiled as she fell against his shoulder, but he pushed her upright again to leave her with her arms draped across the back of the seat.
 
"Whazza matter?" she drawled with a smirk. "You afraid folks'll think we're like dwaaaaarves?"
 
"I thought you said that was just a rumor." He brought Bleys around and started down the road into town. "And I thought you made a promise..."
 
"There're all kinds of weddings, Frodo." She gestured with her pipe before her. "Look out there--see how the sea marries the sky?"
 
"You know what I mean."
 
"But isn't it...beautiful? Beautiful beyond all songs..."
 
"I would appreciate it more if I didn't feel so angry," he turned to her, "or so scared. You keep pushing the limits, Mattie."
 
"I love the limits," she said with a luxurious stretch. "The dangerous terrortory 'tween worlds! Frodo, if you could see the, the marriage of the sea and sky as I do, if only you...well, here. Why not?" She offered him her pipe.
 
"Keep that thing to yourself!"
 
She looked more darkly on him, puffed the last drafts of her smoke, then shook the pipe out over the side of the cart and pocketed it. Slowly and as clearly as she could, she said, "Then you will never understand me."
 
"Then I won't." The cart reached the streets and the hooves and wheels resounded on the stones. "It looks like we're just going to have to disappoint each other in our choices."
 
Mattie said no more, falling into a doze, but Frodo heard a silky voice in his head say, Ah...so the young hobbit returns unchaparoned to his home, none there but him and a tipsy lady-- whom few but he knows is of the female persuasion anyway--whom he could probably persuade to do anything of an entertaining nature, even without a dragon's tongue.
 
"Sauron, you are filth. I would say filth incarnate, but that no longer applies, does it?"
 
Do not deny that it occurred to you. I know better.
 
"I won't. But I don't act on everything that occurs to me. It's our actions that define us."
 
Do actions count that no one else has seen? I could easily arrange that Mattie not remember a thing. She has given me the power to have my way with her, and unlike some I am generous. You need not give me any power of your own at all to share her with me.
 
"You filth!" he cried, and Mattie stirred uneasy by his side. "It's not all about power, is it? You would teach me by degrees the ways of Ted Sandyman--and wouldn't that be a vengeance on my Papa!"
 
If you want her consent, you need but offer her coin--she would accept. Her needs grow more expensive with time.
 
"But she's..."
 
Do you think her purity inviolable? More than half the reason that she wears male garb is the fear of what she might do for money if people knew what they could buy from her.
 
"That," Frodo growled, "does not qualify as consent."
 
In a way Sauron's attack backfired, for now Frodo looked tenderly on Mattie in her vulnerability, and a desire to protect her swelled in him. She seemed to sense his regard, for she opened her eyes and made an effort to sit up straight, though she soon slipped down again, her eyes closing and opening in slow rhythm that reminded Frodo disturbingly of elvish sleep. Suddenly she gasped, an open-mouthed smile stealing over her face as the tears trickled down. She whispered, "Mama?" and then sank down somewhere deep where Frodo couldn't reach her. Embarrassed, he pulled her kerchief from her pocket and wiped the drool from her chin, and tucked it back into her pocket again.
 
But when he went to lift her from the cart at his home, she woke once more, climbed down by herself, and looked on him with sparkling eyes. Throatily she said, "I saw her Frodo. My mother." She staggered against him and pressed a tiny hand to his breast. "I saw her! Flying...in the mos' beautiful sunset...her hair all tangled i' the clouds...beckoning."
 
"Oh no no no--you are not going to join her!" He bustled her in and left her on the bench, then remembered to relieve Bleys of his harness and fetch the sprouts (after giving the donkey a generous handful for reward.)
 
The minute he came back in she cried out, "Frodo?" trying to rise off the bench and sliding onto the floor instead. "I thought I would never...ever...not those dreams again. But oh...if only you could see!"
 
Frodo slammed the basket onto the hanging shelf, setting the ropes to creaking and swaying. "Sauron--ohhh Sauron!"
 
If you do not want her, then I do. I offered.
 
Mattie lay on the floor beside the bench, a hand reaching up towards the ceiling, wonder in her face. "Towers..." she husked, "Towers of pearl and opal...Mother lives there...if I could just...the song would let me in, if...the song is the key...the song..."
 
"I'm going to fix some lunch now," Frodo announced, "and I insist that you share some with me. It'll do you good."
 
But more and more despairingly she moaned, "The song...I need to...if I could just...if I could sing that song..." Frodo watched her from the kitchen corner as he tossed the sprouts with black Mirkwood walnuts and goat cheese, and dressed them with his oil. "The song! I must...remember...that song!" Abruptly she sat up, emptying her pockets till she found her pipe and the little round tin.
 
"No!" Frodo ran back and grabbed the tin from her. "Any more today and you would die!"
 
"But I...need...that...song!" Mattie fought him for the tin, tugging with all her might, but he wouldn't let go. The lips of her open mouth trembled, and her eyes looked wild, like some final burst of strength roused up in her.
 
"That song isn't a key to anything! Listen--it's just another of Sauron's lies. He's trying to kill you, drink up all the life in you to keep himself going."
 
"Then let me die--please! I will join her--I will join my mother. Oh please!"
 
Then Frodo caught a glimpse that Sauron, in his eagerness, failed to hide in time. "No you wouldn't. She has moved on, Mattie--don't you understand?" She jerked the tin from him, but just stared at him, clutching it. "Don't you remember what Tom Bombadil told you? 'The dead have found their own true path--you needn't follow after.' She left, Mattie. I think...I think Sauron tried to devour her, but she recoiled and went the other way. She faced the music--she answered the summons to the Hall of Mandos." He found a smile steal upon him. "It's not that easy to defeat a hobbit--not even one who tries to defeat herself." He helped Mattie to her feet and walked her to the bench again. "And that goes for you, too, Mattie. I know I saw a true vision. You won't find your mother's real spirit here, with Sauron's help or without." He sat beside Mattie, holding her hands, the tin between them. "So why not give it up? Why not go free?"
 
"You don't understand!" She pulled away from him, sobbing her heart out, her curls straggling in her tear-blotched face, hugging the tin against her breast. "You can't understand what you're asking me to give up, Frodo!"
 
"I daresay I can't," Frodo said gently. "That does not change what you and I both know. If you keep on the way you've been, you will kill yourself as surely as your mother killed herself--and whatever her fate, she would not want you to share it. Not like this."
 
"But I feel so close...soooo close to understanding...everything." Her eyes clouded again, as her brief burst of strength waned. "It's real, Frodo...it is so real!" She slumped back, staring out beyond him.
 
"It is not r..."
 
"The smial under the roots of the Mallorn tree...crystals set in b'tween the roots...prisms...did you know that...rainbows danced there all the time?"
 
Slowly he asked, "How do you know about that?"
 
She smiled mysteriously at him, and for an instant her eyes focused on his. But then her gaze wandered again. "Bathing in rainbows...just lyin' there...on a little bed of furs...but ohhhh...how sad...something crushed it...poor little diadem of copper and...and beryls..."
 
Frodo jumped up. "Now that I know is a lie!"
 
Mattie shrieked with laughter till she fell over. It did not feel to Frodo like Mattie herself laughed at all. The alternative sickened him in its obscenity.
 
"Will you just listen to me!" he cried. "Murders have happened--I told you about them. From hobbit height. But nothing went on while Elenaril's women watched over you and kept you out of mischief." He grabbed her and shook her but the peals did not abate. "And who is laughing? Sauron, is that you in there?"
 
"Jus' li'l ol' me," she chuckled, and she gave him a saucy grin. "Ma-til-da Greenbanks t'you." Her laughter subsided. Careful in her pronunciation, she said, "I make my own choices, Frodo. I am not the slave you think I am. I never murdered anyone in my life."
 
"You named yourself a slave to me soon after we first met."
 
"Then I must've been out of my mind," she declared as though this were nothing, and burst into new giggles.
 
"So you make your own choices? Fine, then! But give those choices a good, hard look!" Not knowing what else to do he knelt beside her and lifted his magic glass from within his shirt, he took her hand, the one without the tin, and he pressed the glass in it, wrapping her fingers around it and holding it there so that she couldn't let go. "Maybe you need a little magnification, get a good close-up look at all the details. Everybody says I need to let you run your own life, well sure, I jolly well will--but I won't let you hide from what you're doing!"
 
She struggled at first, but she had already spent herself. She turned her face to the wall, but Frodo could still see it in profile, grimacing, weeping. Then her teeth gritted, and the sobs came forth, till she shuddered with her sobbing, and at last she cried, "All right!" She gasped and sat up as he let go. "All right!" she repeated. "Here--get rid of this for me! Maybe Elenaril can use it for her patients."
 
And Mattie handed the tin over to Frodo. He took it slowly, trembling himself, as fearfully as though she handed him the One Ring, and he knew that for her it might as well have been. He had never seen the poppy-gum tin up close before. Grime obscured the emblem stamped and enameled upon the metal, but he rubbed it clean, curious. Some eastern design, no doubt...or no...something else...
 
"No,” Frodo gasped, recognizing the logo with a final swipe of the thumb. “No. That can’t be." It dropped from his hand with a high-pitched clink, rolled in a circle and then clattered to the floor where he could still see the cursed picture. "That... I know him. Somebody must have stolen his good name for their own ends." Frodo sat down on the floor beside it, staring in horror. "Why, when he, he found out that pipeweed hurt men he made a long and dangerous journey to set things right--he can’t possibly have anything to do with this!” Yet on the lid of the poppy-gum tin shone the stamp of a stag’s head, the antlers outlining a snifter--the seal of Brandybuck Mercantile.
 

 

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