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 23, Part 120
Prickly Situations
March 10, 1452

Frodo waved after Bergil and Elenaril, who departed on foot through the ruined old city gate, hand in hand, to resume their honeymoon.. Then he knelt once again to his day's task: planting kaktush around the town perimeter. All around the boundary walls to his right he saw villagers trying their gingerly best to follow Elenaril's parting instructions as they manipulated the spiny little succulents into their new homes. To his left he saw little dots of green outlining the base of the walls like prickly beryls.
 
"Ouch!" Frodo cried, pulling his bleeding thumb back from the baby plant and sticking the injured part into his mouth. Then, at his manservant's smirk, he realized what he had done and took it out again, wiping it against his shirt. Fishenchips had no trouble at all planting kaktushes; occasionally a hook for a hand came in handy. "All hail the Kaktush King," Frodo remarked, bowing in Fish's direction.
 
Fish grinned. "Jus' don' crown me in a kaktush wreath."
 
"Not unless you get a hook for a head," Frodo answered, grinning back. His father would have called the jest insensitive and rebuked him for it, but it got a belly-laugh from Fishenchips and the others within earshot. Depression settled on Frodo as he worked, when he thought about it; he did not want to develop a Mordor sense of humor.
 
"Think it'd make me handsomer, or smarter?" Fish bantered, and Frodo tried to laugh back, but his mood had already plunged. The problem with manual labor was that it gave you plenty of time to think. The ledger-work of merchants and the paperwork of scribes could exercise the brain, but it drove out all thoughts not related to numbers and statutes and how many sacks of grain can fit upon a barge. The gardener with much upon his mind had no such consolation.
 
The object of his darkest thoughts soon ventured across the field to him, with uncharacteristic shyness. "It's nice to see she feels something, sometimes," he muttered to the hole in front of him before plopping in another baby kaktush. Halfway over she began to sing, and his heart shivered.
 
"I gave my love a winter cloak, with mine own fingers sewn,
But there in pouring rain he soaks, as though I'd made him none.
I baked my love a cherry pie, full-fragrant steaming sweet,
But see the hunger in his eye, for none of mine he'll eat."

 
"Hullo, Frodo," she said, interrupting her own song to sit in the dirt beside him.
 
He did not look up, but scooted over on his knees and started digging another hole. "Hullo. I suppose you'll be leaving now."
 
"Well, I've hit all the main villages, and filled up my mail-sack."
 
"Mm."
 
"Lots of orders going out, with all the money you've brought in."
 
"That's good." Suddenly he felt his trowel pried from his fingers. As she gripped his hand he couldn't avoid looking into her eyes. He wanted to picture them different, clear and liquid and full of love, but he saw the same tiny pupils as always. "Mattie, I have work to do."
 
"It can wait." And she drew him to his feet. But soon she released his hand. In a louder, more masculine voice, for the benefit of eavesdroppers, she said, "A bard and messenger learns many things in the countryside. But some things only the Royal Gardener needs to hear." And she scowled at the nearest laborer.
 
"Then I will hear it," he replied. "Everybody take your mid-day break." Frodo followed Mattie through one of the cracks in the wall, into an unfamiliar alley, darker and more isolated than most. "What is it you want to..." but he found himself silenced by her lips when she thrust her entire body against him and pressed him to the wall. After the shock he responded; he could hardly help it. Yet tenderly. Nothing like her bruising fervor. He touched her with such gentleness that her eyes watered, and when she drew back from kissing him he saw that her lip trembled. He asked her, "Have I hurt you?"
 
"No. Far from it not at...yes. Yes you have." She straightened her clothes a bit, looking at him flushed and flustered. "Your kisses are full of goodbyes."
 
"That is what you came for, isn't it? To say goodbye?"
 
"Yes, but..." and then she flung herself on him again, kissing him in a fury, understanding now in full just how much goodbye he meant. His youthful blood took fire and came close to betraying him, closer than it ever had even with Mayor Aloe, but just in time he felt himself step on something that hurt his bare foot. When he glanced down he saw an empty and discarded poppy-gum tin, and when his eye scanned the alley, he saw more scattered rusting in the dirt. That's when he knew what Mattie normally used this alley for, and his blood cooled down again. And it sickened him to think that he could have even considered making love--love!--in a place like this, in a mood like this, to a maiden saying goodbye.
 
But the tins also brought him a new inspiration. "Let me walk with you," he said, taking Mattie by the arm and steering her towards more sunlit ways. "I need to go home anyway, to pick up empty vessels that I can send back home to refill again." Yet he made sure to pass the Mayor's court, first, where he knew Aloe waited with a sheaf of correspondence to send back to Gondor. "Never mind, Mattie--we'll catch up with each other at the docks."
 
Once he got into the house he ran to the kitchen-corner and emptied what remained in his brandy-cask into a jar. He pried open the top, and pulled from his pocket the poppy-gum tin with the Brandybuck heraldry upon it. He ran up the stairs as fast as his short legs could leap, grabbed his letter home, pulled from it all the pages that he knew Mattie would censor, and folded them up tight into the tin, so that he really had to press hard to snap it shut again. Then, searching about for something to muffle the metal with, he seized upon the rags of his waistcoat, torn by the warg; he wrapped the tin up, rode the bannister back downstairs, and stuffed the whole bundle into the cask, puffing for breath the while, then pushed the lid back on. "Uncle Merry will find it. Uncle Merry will know." He took a moment to catch his breath and splash water on his face from the pitcher by the hearth. Quickly he folded up and sealed what remained of his letter; with the wax still warm he sauntered out the door as though he took his time the entire while, with the letter in one hand and the cask under his other arm.
 
"Are you still angry with me, Frodo?" Mattie murmured when they met in the courtyard, Mattie leading Stumblehoof with the mail bags on her saddle.
 
"You promised," he said dully, knowing the words meaningless.
 
"And even as I promised, I quit. I started again--but I did quit."
 
He sighed. "I suppose that means something to you." When she nodded he smiled sadly and said, "But not enough for me."
 
After a few steps Mattie said, "It's better, you know. It actually helped."
 
"Helped?"
 
"I...I don't need so much now."
 
He looked at her, and she cast down her eyes, but she did not blush. Those pale cheeks never blushed. "I suppose that means you won't steal so much."
 
She bit her lip, then nodded. "Not so much. No."
 
He sighed. "Well, yes, then. That much, at least, is good."
 
They said nothing more until Mattie led her mare to the main causeway leading to the docks, when she turned and said, "I'll see you around, next time I'm in town, Frodo."
 
"Yeah. I'll see you around."
 
"Oh--I almost forgot..."
 
"You've got another letter from Papa?" he said dully, not with his usual enthusiasm at all. "You've had it all this time and you just now remembered?"
 
"Nik Mossy brought it up--the coward!" She grinned like they had no conflict between them whatsoever. "The sailors say his teeth didn't stop chattering the whole time he stayed at Riverborne, and he wouldn't board a ship to go any deeper into Mordor, not for the life of him. I'll bet he's still there, waiting for me to hold his hand returning through the Pass." She laughed, but he did not answer her humor. Was it the drug that made her so forgetful, or did she delight in showing off her power to withhold or grant him news from home, upon her whim? Did it really matter which? "Anyway, as I was saying...what was I saying?"
 
"Goodbye, Mattie."
 
"Oh. Yes. Yes of course. Goodbye."
 
As Frodo walked back he heard Sauron remark, Such a clever halfling! Pour the brandy into a jar so that Bergil will not notice.
 
"You know that's not why I did it."
 
But it has occurred to you since.
 
"But that's not why I did it."
 
But wouldn't it be something of a relief to...
 
"No." Then, with a dry mouth Frodo said, "You have never loved; you do not know the depth of what I feel, nor how impossible it would be to fill that pit with brandy or with anything else."
 
You are wrong, halfling. I have loved. But I have long since recovered from the malady.
 
"Then you have forgotten how."
 
The years wear on me, old as I am, knowing this earth since naught but rock made it. Why should I remember every wrong turn, except as a side note not to repeat the error?
 
"So who did you love?"
 
I do not choose to discuss it.
 
"Was it a fire maia? You do have a thing for fire, though it's not your element."
 
I DO NOT CHOOSE TO DISCUSS IT!
 
Frodo picked himself up off the ground, his head ringing with pain. He saw evidence of his own thrashing imprinted in the dirt, but he did not stop to marvel at it. He reeled to his feet, and as soon as he could master them he ran, ran to where Mattie lay, a little ways ahead, face down in the dust while the old mare nuzzled her, whinneying with concern. "Mattie?" He pulled her up to her feet and shook her. "Mattie?"
 
She opened her eyes and grinned at him. "It just hit. Ohhhhh my--that was good stuff. Better than I expected."
 
"Mattie, are you all right?"
 
"Oh, sure, sure." She slapped some dust off her clothes and steadied herself on Stumblehoof's patient side. "Jus' give me a minute here. All right. I've got my feet. I'm fine now. But wow! It's soooo good! It's just...wow!" She turned unfocussed eyes on him. "You really ought to try it, Frodo, it's just, soooooo..." she giggled like an idiot.
 
"Sauron did this to you," Frodo grated, trying not to weep.
 
"Did he now? What a gentleman. Say hello for me, will you?" And then she staggered off with the horse's help towards the dock, covered in dust that she'd missed, while Frodo stood there, fists clenched.
 
Admit it, Frodo. You have not let go. You will never quite let go, not until she dies. I learned that the hard way, and I will do anything rather than suffer like that again.
 
"No, you're right--I can't. But I can give her over. Maybe that's something you never learned, or never dared."
 
Me? Give anything over to my inferiors? I have no higher power than myself, Frodo, not since Melkor departed for the Outer Darkness. I must, day by day, year by year, century by century, find the courage to stand bravely on my own two feet, relying on no one but myself. Could you have done the same?
 
"That is perhaps the saddest thing you have ever told me." And Frodo turned back to the fields.
 

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