I Will Not Say the Day is Done
Nor Bid the Stars Farewell
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 24, Part 121
The Generosity of Sam Gamgee
March 10, 1452
By evening, after a spare but decent meal of wrysprout bread liberally smeared with herb-spiced curd, and a beansprout salad in a dressing that made it taste like it had twice the substance it did, Frodo saw things in a different perspective, sprawling in some comfort on the bench. Fishenchips whistled by the fireside, where he sat on a cushion on the floor, practicing the use of the tip of his hook to gouge out designs in firewood; all of his failures went into the flames without a care, and all the curls of wood he swept with a push of his foot over into a pile for tinder. His whittling filled the air with a pleasant lumberyard scent and his whistling put Frodo at peace with the world. Over in the center of the room Leech lay on his hanging bed, breathing softly in a healing sleep, and that sound, too, increased the hobbit's peace.
Frodo remembered Papa's letter, then, and took it out. He smiled at the sight of his father's handwriting--slow, precise block letters, anxious not to make mistakes. Frodo felt sure that out of all his father's inheritances from the Bagginses, Sam prized literacy above land or gold or any other treasure. Frodo lengthened his anticipation, weighing the letter in his hand; it felt bulkier than usual and a little lopsided--did Papa tuck in a present? At last he grinned and let himself break the seal.
The first thing he came across was a folded handkerchief and a tiny envelope that rattled. In his father's hand he saw printed on the parchment, "Kingsfoil Seeds". "Papa, you're a marvel!" Frodo cried. When he opened the handkerchief he found dried kingsfoil leaves; just parting the cloth released a heavenly scent that eased his heart no end.
"Good news?" Fishenchips asked with a smile.
"Yes, indeed! Come over here and see." When the man bent over to look at what the hobbit held, he inhaled a breath of the herb's perfume and his smile broadened so that he looked ten years younger. Frodo explained, "It's athelas--what we call kingsfoil. It is an healing herb of great value for those afflicted with maladies of sorcery. It is also good for nightmares." He handed the leaves and the seeds over to Fishenchips. "Put these in a safe place. I'm sure Leech will teach you more of them tomorrow when he wakens." Then Frodo began the letter.
"March 6, 1452"
Frodo frowned at that; Mattie must have withheld the letter longer than he thought.
"Mayor Samwise Gamgee
"Might as well start this letter afore I get yourn. Youll be glad to know I gave Rosie-Lass a few of those fancy yarns shes been craving for her weaving work--not the one with the silver threads twined in it, though! But some fine silken yarn from Thranduil's people in a pretty robin's egg blue, so as to throw a little support in for Legolases folks, and a deep rose wool from Rohan. I figure its about time I gave the girl a break.
"Your brother Robin wanted a seashell for his birthday, and thats what I gave him, though it took me a far piece to get it, and your mother burst into tears when I came home, hugged me half to death, then shook me till my teeth rattled, saying she thought for sure Id upped and followed Frodo Baggins! The poor, foolish sweetheart--I would never do that to her.
"Merry Brandybuck has decided to try and grow that spicy-root you told us about, right here in the Shire--in his bath-hall to be precise. Hes got Brandybucks busy right and left putting in a number of windows straight into the roof to let some sun in for them, though the plant likes it shadier than most, and hot and steamy, which the baths seem well-suited for. Hes got pots set up around every tub in the place--those, and a few other curious crops, like tea.
"I dident know that tea comes from parts south and east, nor that all the times we bought it here in the west we unwittingly payrolled the armies of Mordor!!! Sauron always let the merchants come through the long way around, it seems. Merry says that the longer he stays in the merchant business, the more he finds hidden perils of the soul--you dont always know what your coin pays for. You got to keep your eyes and your ears open, he says, and go out and deal face to face whenever you can."
Frodo scowled. "Oh, you have no idea, Papa--nor Uncle Merry, neither, more's the pity." But he had to laugh over the next paragraph.
"Speaking of spicy roots, I got a little curious about those hot pickled carrots you went on about when you provisioned for your trip. Your mother and I just had to try them out, so we asked Merry B. if he had any in his warehouses. As it so happened he said a shipment just came in, but as they dident conform exactly to Shire tastes, he intended to pack this lot off to the Blue Mountain Dwarves. Talk about putting it mildly! You did not warn me that eating them could cause pain! I thought it just about took the roof off my mouth; I studied myself in the mirror, but couldent find no damage, though my lips still tingled. Your mother threw a regular fit, running all about the kitchen fanning her mouth and making shrill piping noises, till she plunged her head under the pump and washed her mouth out with a steady stream of water. She said she thought for sure she was going to die. You LIKE this stuff? And Merry says their mild compared to some things folks will eat out in your end of the world."
Was that a fleck of something shiny on the page? Odd...
"I am not surprised that nations once ruled by Sauron consider this a dainty. Although Merry says that the hot part doesent actually come from Umbar. The former corsairs sail a considerable distance west (bent-sea sailing, of course) to trade for the spice with folks who have never heard of the King. They used to raid for it, but thats not allowed these days. Why theyd go through so much trouble I cant imagine, except Merry does say it can help keep meats from going bad. Vermin will not touch it--and I can understand why! Merry has never seen the spice except in powdered form (when it is as red as any fire) or as long, dried garlands of shriveled, dark red fruits that look like they might once have been long and pointy. He does not know what the fresh fruit looks like, but offered to fetch me seeds if Id care to find out. No thank you!
"Still, I am glad that you like it. Your more open minded than your father, as Id be the first to admit. If you must eat Mordor-food, it is good (and unexpected!) that you should enjoy it. I think maybe that dream of Valinor predisposed you to see the good in all kinds of things that I sure never would."
There...more flecks of the glittery stuff, whatever it was, on the very next page.
"You will want to know that I finally tracked down Ted Sandyman. I went to him with Master and Mistress Brandybuck beside me. Ted would not agree to meet with me unless I brought May along, so I left May standing on one side of The Bridge and crossed over to meet with Ted on the other--I knew he wouldent dare cross water. But if he could of crossed by eyes alone, he would of, such was the yearning in him, gazing over at what should of been his daughter if hed done things the right way. Just like the rumors said, every hair on his head has turned as white as clouds. And hes lost weight, too; he always used to be a stout fellow, but not these days.
"He had this music-making contraption he wanted to show me, a thing with buttons on either end and a crinkly middle. He'd squish it together, and pull it out again, and squish it again, all the while pushing those buttons to make the air wheeze in and out of it in different notes and chords, loud enough you could hear it well across the water and then some ways. It was his own invention, he said. He wanted to show me he wernt bad no more, he said. He wanted to play a tune for May, and did a sorry little jig while he played the thing, and she, poor lass, laughed and clapped across the river and had no idea that that scarecrow grin of his meant he was dying inside for seeing her.
"Well, anyway, he signed the papers I brought. While Rosie led May out of hearing range, I read everything out loud to him. Merry and Estella Brandybuck signed their names after he put his X down, to confirm he was who he said he was and that he understood what he just signed. Then I saw him staring like he'd just been stabbed to death; I turned and saw our little May at the top of the hill waving down at him. Thats when he looked at me peculiar and said, 'I cant raise no girlchild, Sam--everybody knows that. But if it had been a son, Sam, Id of fought you for him--I just want you to know that. Id of fought you bloody for him.' I never thought Id feel pity for Ted Sandyman, not in all my born days. But I do. You should of seen the broken critter hes become.
"Not that I like the idea of Sandyman raising any son! What would he do, teach the lad what those bad men taught him before? No, the sooner some things die out the better, is what I say. Or maybe I dont judge him fair. Maybe hes so sick of his old crime that he'd bend over backwards raising his boy to treat the ladies proper. Whatever the case we wont find out--he wont be getting hisself any sons, the way things stand.
"Speaking of prickly encounters, I just now got your letter in hand, and as far as your use of thorns for margin decorations, I cant say as it brought back happy memories for your ol Pa! Is this one of those rebellion things that tweenagers do to show “I am not like my Father!”?? If so, you succeeded! But no, your tastes have got to be your own, whether its for doomfire carrots or wreathes of thorns. My mission necessitated me to fight Mordor every step of the way; your mission necessitates you to embrace her and nurture her however best you can. If that means loving her thorns, then more power to you! I can see how you could develop a fondness for something you could tuck around your goats and make them safe. But I do shudder as I wonder if I sent away my son to learn the tastes of a nice orc! Never mind me--you adapt however makes you happy at your work--so long as you dont develop an orkish appetite for hurtfulness and pain, your still my boy."
Frodo felt a twinge of guilt at some of the jokes he'd laughed at lately, but read on.
"But for heavens sake, watch your step! Trod right on an old rusty axe, did you? I dident send you out on a picnic, son--your in the baddest land in the world and I expect you to mind your toes better than that. Especially if ol Sauron left some manner of pestilence creeping about in the soil--why, I never heard the like!
"Its nice, at least, that you got to meet another of our kind upon the road. Mattie Heathertoes, huh? That name rings a bell somehow. But you should of told me more, Frodo. Its not every day you meet a hobbit in the Land of Shadow--I dident know any ever went their cept your namesake and me."
"But I did tell you more," Frodo thought, staring at the page in disbelief. "I wrote whole pages about Mattie!" Then he clenched his jaw as he realized what had happened, and read on, scowling.
"I sat up and payed attention when he led you to them hot springs. You mean to tell me that that water tasted the way it did because it was soapy? If Id of known that on my own adventure, Id of given myself a bit of a scrub on the spot, and never mind the danger! I know I sure could of used it right about then."
When Frodo turned the page a sheet of gold leaf fell out. He wondered at that, but laid it aside and went on with the letter.
“And now I read what you wrote about the ring tempting me to make Mordor bloom. You hit close to the mark, their, son, but not right on the bullseye. Id say the second greatest yearning of my heart was to make beauty and wholesomeness grow where Sauron had banished it. My first greatest yearning was for the love of Rosie--and by extension you and your brothers and sisters yet to be--and yes, also the fellowship of good friends like Master Frodo. Love, in other words. The ring couldent even comprehend that lure, and so dident offer it. But it stumbled when it offered to make me the Great Lord Gardner of Mordor, because theirs love in that, too--you cant grow things right without it, not indefinitely. The ring thought I wanted some kind of conquest--that much it understood. But my desires had love at the core, and so the temptation triggered off all the rest of the love in my heart, and defeated the rings purpose. You might remember that in your future conversations with Sauron--think about love, and itill perplex him clean out of the picture."
"Unless you ask him about his own past romance," Frodo muttered grimly.
"But theirs love, and then theirs something else. Ah, my son, my son! You know, I heard tell of some strange ways among the Easterlings. Away off in those lands, folks dont pick their own wives and husbands, but their parents do the picking for them. Often enough the younguns dont even meet their future brides and grooms till after the wedding--it all gets arranged without their say-so, and they just take whatever they can get. I thought it a barbaric custom, until I got your latest letter and read about that watersprite you tangled with. Now Im thinking maybe I ought to fix you up with a bride and send her to you, afore you get yourself into any more trouble!"
Frodo couldn't help but laugh, though his face burned.
"As for that march you made afterwards, sick as you were, do not think for one minute that you need to duplicate all of my hardships! Folks will go through all kinds of trials just to make sure their children dont have to--can you understand that? But Im proud of you--I should not be astonished that you can perform such feats, but I am. It seems like yesterday you were but a tiny tyke, running to your Papa with tears in your eyes over a skinned knee.
"I should also mention that I had taken to my bed about that time--nothing serious, just a heavy cold; your Mama thought Id better take a day off afore it sunk into my chest and turned into a week of no work. I slept the day away, and in that time I kept having one of my Mordor dreams, drifting in and out of it like you do when your feverish. In my dream I just kept trudging along, telling Frodo to keep on going like I used to do. I cannot help but wonder if I really did connect with you in some way."
Now Frodo recognized what glittered on so many of the pages: little flecks of gold leaf.
"The more I read this letter, the more I run into blotted out parts. I can understand correcting a word or two, maybe even a sentence you want to word better--but whole paragraphs? And sometimes the numbering of the pages goes wrong, like you took whole pages out. I thought we agreed, Frodo, that you could be frank with me. You certainly did not hide your heart about that watersprite--and bless you for your honesty! So it seems most curious to me that your getting more and more shy all of a sudden with all these blotches. Peculiar, too, how the ink looks just like the standard sort, and not that exotic import-ink that youve come to fancy--I dident know you brought any of the regular kind with you, or why you should, but that shows how little I know."
"Or how much," Frodo said, leaning forward in his seat.
"But never you mind about that, my lad. Lets have us some old-fashioned Shire gossip! Do you remember dear ol BB? You know, the fellow who dropped by the day you left, to show off his fancy black suit?”
That had to be Bleoboris--but it didn’t seem like Papa to refer to anyone by initials alone; he always said, “If a name is any good, you ought to use it!” The letter went on, “Anyways, your Uncle Merry and I got to worriting about BB’s family--it seems that some of them are hard-put, not enough elders to go around, I guess, for help or supervision either one--veritable orphans, it looks like--and at least one of BBs bunch has turned to crime, and wed like to know why.”
That couldn’t be Bleoboris Brandybuck, then--why would Merry inquire about the clan he headed as though they were strangers? Unless Papa referred to the brotherhood of messengers--in which case this whole section had to be a coded message about the censoring of his letter! Mattie would have recognized the name, “Bleoboris Brandybuck,”as belonging to a rider of the post. Frodo fairly bounced on the bench in his excitement.
“BB did allow as to how some of his family do look mighty thin, and might not be able to take care of themselves proper. He suspects, in fact, that one in particular spends all his wages at your Mamas favorite shop, and then steals money for more.”
A lady's tailor shop? Wait--Miss Poppy’s Dress Shop! Of course! Mattie wouldn't know its name, being from Staddle. “Bless you, Papa--you figured it out!”
“It makes no sense to waste your bread-and-butter money like that, so we think the poor bloke lost his mind. They do say that since losing his folks hes been living all on his own in what some call a haunted hole--and thats been going on for years. That cant have done him any good. As the Mayor, it is my duty to send word to the herbwife--you know, the one with the tasteless chemise--and see if some healing might be done. We cant blame crazy people if they break the law, but weve got to stop them anyhow. And I might try to send a friend to talk to ol Longshanks, if we can find him--you know, the one I dident like the looks of when we first met at the Prancing Pony. A disreputable fellow, some have said, yet useful when dealing with the criminal element.”
"Yes! Yes! Oh, Papa, you've got it!" Frodo pounded the bench cushion while Fish looked up puzzled; even Leech opened up a drowsy eye, and then slipped back into sleep. And to think Papa hadn't even gotten the poppy-gum tin yet to fill him in!
Sam went on, "That was quite an eventful boating expedition you had their! No, I am not about to comment on Bergils second-hand account of Pippins speculations! Let the dead have their privacy. Suffice that Frodo Baggins never let a fear stand between him and anything he saw as duty--thats all as needs be said about whether or not he feared to go a-boating. Anyway, considering the monster you encountered on the way, a touch of fear strikes me as sensible."
Frodo found another sheet of gold leaf and laid it aside.
"I am glad to hear that you have gotten on just as well with your second servant, Fishenchips, as you have with your first. I expect you will need a number of employees in a big job like youve got. Besides, his name appeals to me. It seems I may have started a few rumors when I bragged about the Shires culinary delights after the war."
Frodo looked up and grinned at the whittler. "Hey Fish--my Papa loves your name."
"Smart fellow," Fish replied, grinning back, and went on whittling.
The letter continued, "But what, exactly, do you mean when you say that you finally found someone who speaks the Common Tongue worsen I do? Id like to remind you as to who taught you to speak it in the first place, my scolar of a son! Consider yourself properly swatted. And yes, no doubt I could hear you laughing all the way to the Shire if I listened hard enough."
Frodo snickered into his sleeve, trying to stifle himself.
"And now I reach the story of your landfall, and what happened afterwards. Son, the last part of your letter absolutely breaks my heart!"
Frodo's mirth dropped from him just like that, as the memory of his first days in Seaside flooded back to him, like all the time between had fled. He felt stricken, a sudden blow concussing his soul when he least expected. He strove to remember just how much he had confided to his father in that letter months ago. "Probably too much," he murmured. He went to turn the page, but his hand trembled; he closed his eyes and told himself, "This is stupid! I can't break down all over again just for a reminder of how bad I felt once upon a time." Yet it took him some moments to master himself and read on. When he did he saw a few flecks of gold, as though a gold leaf had once lain here between these pages, too.
"Ive been writing as I go (I dont read letters out loud to the family without checking them first, now, for one thing) and only now do I realize the suffering your going through. Yes, I do believe everything you say about Sauron. Oh, Frodo, I am so sorry that I have caused you so much hurt! If I learned nothing else from Frodo B.s troubles its that pain in the brain beats all other kinds put together. The body can only hurt so much before you pass out, but the mind is where the body sends its pain in the first place, and if it hurts all by itself, it dont have the same limits as the body does."
Again Frodo closed his eyes and fought for mastery. It all came back to him. Did the other Frodo feel something like this on the anniversary of old wounds?
"I dont mean to say this to make you feel worse, but to say I understand; I have had just enough of a taste of that to not want any more! Your Uncle Merry knows even more of what Im talking about here--the Ringwraiths used to inflict that sort of thing on people as a weapon, so hard that theyd shut down and die with nary a scratch, and thats what nearly done him in. So I take this breakdown business seriously.
"Thank you, Papa," Frodo whispered. Somehow being taken seriously strengthened him better than any medicine. And he felt heartened, now, to think of how far he had come between one letter and the next. With a lot of help, of course, but entirely dependent upon his own cooperation.
"It can go worse for you if you keep on thinking "What is WRONG with me?" as you seem to be doing, if you think that sort of suffering should count less than a monster chomping off your hand, instead of more. But if you can accept that youve got yourself a legitimate war-wound, and treat it as such, you will get better faster. Leech is right--you do need to go easy on yourself. But Bergil is also right. You also need to push yourself whenever you can, same as he does to get back the strength of his broken arm. You have to listen to yourself to know when to push and when to rest, but you can do it, I have faith in you, my dear, dear son!"
Frodo hardly even noticed the third sheet of gold as anything more than an impediment to reading the next page. "I did, Papa. I pushed myself right back up onto my feet again. I thought I'd die to do it, but I did. The hardest part was thinking it should have been easy."
"Listen. If you need to come home, I will find another gardener. I will talk to Strider myself, if I have to, and if Rose dont want me to leave her for so long she can ride with me as shes done before; the children are old enough they can look after each other. But first I will send you such aid as I can, for I think youll do better in the long run if you see this through. But thats just thinking of you--dont be afraid to disappoint your ol Pa by coming home, for I would not be disappointed, Id understand that this isent the job I reckoned on when I sent you forth. Still, maybe itill take the pressure off you to know you got a back door out, so that you wont need that door just by knowing its their."
Frodo stared at the letter with brimming eyes. "It does, Papa," he whispered. "It actually does."
"Or maybe I did the wrong thing sending someone Saurons bound to hate so much. I honestly dident think he had it in him to do much hurt to anybody anymore--but then we made the same mistake with Saruman. Oh, who knows? Maybe by the time you read this you will be all better. Or maybe worse for lack of good advice. Curse this turtle-slow mail between us! I hope you will be better."
"I am, Papa," he breathed. "I wish you were right here to tell you so. And then I'd hug you clean in half!"
"Youve got enough good sense of your own without me--I have to believe in that. I have to have confidence that I raised you with what you need. But curse it all, I dident quite finish raising you before I sent you off! Just because Pippin was the same age was no excuse--he had orcs to deal with, but not Sauron hisself! But how was I to know that the nasty little blowfly still had some fight in him and would go after my family?
"One thing I can do is something about your commons. I dont know whats happening to all the grub we send to Mordor by the usual channels, but your uncles and I have decided to get together something special, under guard by the hobbitry-at-arms. Now dont argue--Im the mayor and I can mobilize our people whenever and wherever I see fit."
"Ohhh Papa--believe me, I won't argue!"
Leech roused again, turned over to his other side and asked Fishenchips, "Does he always get this emotional over letters from home?"
"Aye, darn near bent out of shape ever' time, for laughin' an' cryin' an' all sorts of carryin' on," Fish said agreeably, not looking up from his art. "But don't knock it--I'd give m'other hand to have a family like that to care so much about."
Sam's letter continued, "I cant bear to think of my boy going hungry when I can do something about it, and if I know you you wont eat nary a mouthful if somebody else around yous going hungry, so I guess its up to us hobbits to feed the whole blithering country until you get them back on their feet. At least Ive got folks talked into it up to one full year--sending decent food under our own guard--after that weve all got faith in your ability to turn them folks around. We had an unusually abundant harvest last year, and this years looking to be made of the same stuff, so I guess its meant to be. Im afraid it wont arrive the same time as this letter, though--it takes some organizing. But hold on awhile longer, lad--help and full bellies are on their way! In the meantime, I think you might like the Kingsfoil Ive slipped in."
"Oh yes--you bet I do!" And the tears ran down Frodo's face.
"Anyway, I hope your better. Maybe Strider knows something that could free you from that miserable haunt. You should write to him. I am sure that anyone carrying the mail would be proud to deliver a letter to the King hisself on so merciful a matter, if it said nothing else. I would handsomely reward anyone who did good by you."
And at that Frodo lowered the letter with the realization of what the gold leaf meant. His father must have larded the entire packet with bribes to make sure it got through. And Mattie took as much as she "needed". As always. He flipped through and found more flecks of gold, tiny omissions. Papa must have put a sheet between every page. And that did not come easy, even for the Mayor of the Shire.
"Just know that we love you, Frodo, dear, dear son, and to others dear brother, dear nephew, dear friend. Hey, youve got the whole Shire behind you and your mission, if you need us. But especially your family. And most especially your mother and me.
"Yours with all the love in the world,
Frodo carefully laid the gleaming sheets of metal back between the pages and folded them away. Poor Mattie--so much wealth for him and she got nothing more than gold!