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 21, Part 118
Running in the Dark
March 8, 1452

Frodo walked down a long, dark, misty hall, past door after door after door. Sometimes he heard muttering behind the doors, or sobbing, or angry curses as the knobs rattled. Some few sang, in halting measures.
 
An ancient hobbit walked beside him, his smile wry, his broad-stretched waistcoat sporting all its buttons, but embossed by elvish handiwork that glinted in the wan and bluish light of the candle that he carried. "It does take some getting used to, doesn't it?" the elder remarked, with a glance about the place.
 
Frodo said nothing, just listened to the voices behind each door: "I did not mean it to turn out that way. I was wrong. I admit that now...How dare they make such accusations against me! Everything I did I meant only for the best...Where are my sons? Oh where, oh where, I thought for sure I would meet them here...Okay, so maybe killing him that way was just a wee bit over the top, but they have to understand that...No! Ask me a thousand times and still I will have no regrets!...Awww, can't they leave me just one little vice? Would it hurt so terribly much if I just...It wasn't me--it was all his fault! I had no choice in the matter. He made me...What do they mean I'm not famous here? Surely they must have heard...How is she? Will somebody please tell me how she is and how I can get out of here to make it up to her? I came here willingly..."
 
"We're getting close," the old hobbit said.
 
Frodo heard a couple voices directly ahead of him, somewhere in the dark--beautiful voices, almost beyond bearing. "Brother," said one, "You know that I love you dearly, second only to my wife. But my darling is less than happy, as you can imagine. Among other things, your escapee has upset her fishes."
 
"He cannot actually capture any of them, you know. They swim right through his grasp."
 
"Yes, yes! I know that. I have not suddenly become an imbecile. Yet his ghostly little fingers make them nervous, brother, and Este is not pleased." Frodo heard something pouring into glasses. "Besides, you know how we intended the entire garden to offer a refuge of serenity for all who have need of it..."
 
"And you have done well, my brother. I have made use of it, myself, and blessed you for the sanctuary." Frodo heard a sigh. "My job weighs on me betimes, perhaps more than any of the others realize, except our sister, of course."
 
"Well, picture yourself out boating on the lake, trying to relax after a hard day's labors, when you glance over the side--and there he swims, staring back at you with those great, pale, goggling eyes of his--not serene, I tell you!"
 
Frodo heard the other chuckle. "I fear that I have grown accustomed to such sights, my brother. But I will gather him in again--have no doubt about that!" Frodo almost thought he recognized that darker, richer voice, which chuckled again, ruefully. "I do confess that I have never, in all my ages managing these halls, had to rein in such an accomplished escape artist! But I shall confine him back to his cell within the hour." A glass clinked, set down on some surface. "After all, he did consent to stay here, if only for a split second upon death, once he realized that both he and his precious had melted at the same time, and he had no further reason to rebel."
 
"Oh but you do have your work cut out for you, my poor brother!"
 
"Do I? He is less evil than some who have entered my halls, though much must pass ere he becomes fit to move on beyond us...but who approaches? Why Irmo! You never told me you had invited guests here today."
 
"Your own friend suggested it, actually. He heard a cry for help, and...and why do you let him wander about outside of time, anyway? I am beginning to think that you have little control, if any, over the Wee People as a whole."
 
"I have my reasons, Irmo. Bilbo, bring your guest forward now, please."
 
"Hullo, Námo," the old hobbit greeted, and he led Frodo into a pool of shifty, silver light, falling on a sort of study. There the younger hobbit saw the pale but handsome being from his dream of Valinor, black-locked and black attired as before, in conversation with one like to him in features yet rosy and crowned with fine and shimmery fair hair, berobed in subtle colors that shifted as he moved.
 
"My lords," Frodo stammered, bowing low, and then, "My lords..." and suddenly to his horror he found that he could say nothing else but that, a third time, "My lords..." like he had forgotten how to speak any other words.
 
Námo of the Hall of Mandos knelt down and took the young hobbit's hands gently in his own. "It is all right, Frodo. You have come in dreams to the very place to meet your needs. Give them over to me, and I will help them."
 
"But you're...but...but..." Realization of who he spoke to rose in him like a flood of chill. "...but you're...but they...no...nooooo!" He jerked his hands back from the Lord of Death and he turned and fled back down that dark hall again, bumping into shadows, tangling in old webs.
 
"Frodo, please!" The vala called out after him. "They only have to die a little bit!"
 
He heard the dread footfalls pursue behind him! He ran, ran, ran...
 
Frodo woke up gasping. He sat up on the bench where he had lain for the first half hour of rest he'd snatched in more than a day and a night, and looked over to where Fishenchips stood by Leech's suspended bed. "How is he?" Frodo asked again.
 
"No better," Fishenchips moaned. Again. They watched the doctor thrash on the canvas, they listened to the ropes and beams groan in chorus with his pain. Frodo got up and reached for a twisted hand that hung over the side. Greenish white with bulging veins, it contorted like it would squeeze the last life out of itself. Frodo tried to massage some relaxation into it, but he might as well have tried to soften iron with nothing more than the warmth of his own skin.
 
"He's been like that awhile," said Fishenchips in a hollow voice. "His feet, too. And his jaws have clenched; I canna pry them apart."
 
Frodo paced and paced, with noplace beyond the bench to sit, since they long since spent their chairs for firewood. He had hoped a nap would refresh his nerves, but not with the sort of dreams he'd had. Fishenchips stood there, immoveable, anchoring a plank in the grip of hand and hook so that Leech wouldn't pitch off entirely.
 
"Shall I sing to him again?" Frodo asked. "It seemed to help last time."
 
"My turn," Fishenchips replied, and began to chant in his deep voice the elvish song that sounded so strange in his Mordor accent. Leech settled a little, only twitching now, his eyes moving behind his lids that hadn't opened for a day and a night together now. Frodo could see veins through the translucent skin of the face. One by one the hobbit picked up the pillows scattered on the floor and pushed them up onto the bed again, some under the man's knees like Fish had done before, some bracing the wasted body to either side.
 
Frodo could hear Leech's breathing through Fish's singing. He did not at first realize the oddity of this, tired as he was, but then the gasping built in volume and intensity until the man's entire chest jolted with the effort to breathe again and again and again till Frodo felt his own mind slip from his grasp in unrelenting horror.
 
An answering mutter then began, rising just as slowly, starting low and incomprehensible, just to the left of Frodo's mind. As the volume built, Frodo realized it didn't even speak the common tongue, but some foul language all its own--gleeful, hateful words that gnawed on madness and despair.
 
Leech now drowned the singer out in wheezes as loud as screams while seizures raked his limbs...
 
Sauron chanted evil spells to draw on powers beyond himself...
 
Frodo felt his mind slip over an edge; he found himself running around the bed in futile circles, crying "What shall I do? What shall I do?" It made no sense even to him, but nothing made sense anymore, anyway.
 
Fishenchips just closed his eyes and held on, his song ended and no enduring good come of it. At last, in a quiet voice hardly heard over the sick man's rales, Fish said, "Nothin'. We can do nothin' but see how comf'table we can make his final hours. 'Tis what he allas did fer us when one o' us got poisoned this bad."
 
That should have calmed Frodo, if not for the hellish laughter now shrieking in his head, driving all clean thoughts away, the gloating tearing through his sanity like acid. He paced faster and faster, and then something snapped. "Help!" he cried. "I have to go find help!"
 
"Frodo, wait!" But Frodo had already run out into the night, crying, "Help! Help! Help!" in a small, piping voice that didn't carry in the gale that whipped through Seaside. It seemed at the time his last and only hope, just to believe in hope at all, just to throw himself on the trust that somebody, somewhere, could help. So he ran through the streets, the cobbles cold and bruising underfoot, the wind's cold cutting through him like he had no more substance than a rag, blowing his hair into his face. "Help! Help! Help!"
 
An answering "'Elp! 'Elp! 'Elp!" came from somewhere and he ran towards it. Many voices overlapped, as high and wild as his own, punctuated by a sudden howl...
 
"Wargs!" He spun on his heel and ran the other way, but he heard the paws pounding behind him as the barking drew closer. He ran so hard that he gasped like the dying man, but the barking grew in volume too, right behind him, hot and wet breath panting on his neck.
 
Snap! Jaws ripped the back out of his weskit, but a yelp followed as teeth broke on the mithril underneath. Frodo clutched his cramping side and sped on. Just one leap, he thought, just one leap and great jaws would close upon his unprotected head...
 
A howl broke out, so close it seemed to burst within his very skin! He jumped in fear, straight up into the air...
 
...into two waiting boughs.
 
"Hazel!" Frodo cried, clasping the wood to himself. He felt himself rise high above the slathering jaws. His heart beat as fast as a little bird's, but the gale in the wands sighed to him of peace and reassurance. His eyes grew heavy; truly he had slept too little lately. Without really deciding to, he curled up against the xeric breast while the wargs yammered their hunger and frustration down below, claws scratching the barklike hide that they couldn't climb...
 
"Mama?" Frodo sat up on his feather-bed, rubbing his nine-year old fist in his eyes that wouldn't quite open. "Mama, I had a nightmare!"
 
"I know, dearheart. You woke the whole family. But it's all right now, my little darling; it's all right." Gentle hands tucked him in. "Go back to sleep, Frodo. Mama's right here..." And so Frodo passed peacefully on to other dreams as the entwife rocked him in the wind.
 

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