I Will Not Say the Day is Done
Nor Bid the Stars Farewell
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 28, Part 125
March 18, 1452
Frodo's shovel broke the crust of matted straw, and the men who stood around him inhaled deeply. The smell that wafted up seemed nothing like manure or scraps, but something deep and rich and full of promises. Frodo broke more crust in the old midden that had finished curing, and out spilled the softest, blackest, finest earth, as light as dreams and yet a concentrate of harvests yet to come. Frodo smiled, but sadly. "Now that's what my Papa calls black gold," he said with reverence, and the same men who cursed the day before now nodded in agreement. He stepped aside to let the men move in and spread it over those fields left unsown with desert crops.
Frodo overheard somebody say, "Ain't that a pretty sight, now! I sure wish Drift would've lived to see this."
"Aye," another put in, carrying new soil by the bucketful. "An' to think he only missed it by one day. If he'd of just held on..."
Frodo moved in with his little shovel and filled up the buckets made to his measure, shouldered the hobbit-sized driftwood yoke that they hung from, and followed the others out to the field. Fishenchips watched the pinched look on the hobbit's face, the wincing eyes, the flinching shoulders, as the buckets poured where others broke the hardened clay with picks and shovels. Frodo gave another smile to the ground-breakers. "Next year we won't have to do this the hard way," he assured them. "We'll just keep on layering compost onto the top of the old soil, once it's fit to receive it." But Fishenchips watched the smile quickly fade.
The hobbit seemed to work as much with his bare feet as his hands, kicking, nudging, patting, swirling, and smoothing soil into place. It looked almost like a dance with the earth; more than one man paused to lean on hoe or pick to watch it for a moment. But Fishenchips noticed Frodo's lips moving the entire while. He arranged for his own work to draw a little closer. He caught snatches of words muttered under the hobbit's breath: "Shut up, will you? For the love of heaven could you just...futile...no, no, it didn't happen that way!...Okay, maybe a little, but...no--you don't understand!"
The work went on. The new earth covered the old in sweet fertility, a gentleness that blanketed the land, a mercy forgotten there for ages. Fishenchips kept looking for that gardener's joy in Frodo's face that always glowed from the hobbit at hallmark times like this, but nothing blanketed the harshness in his eyes, as bleak as worn-down stone.
After those few words in the morning, and aside from minimal orders given in a hollow voice, Frodo said nothing all day long except in whispers to his private ghost. Slowly the land turned black and soft before their labors. At last, with the late sun slanting in his face and his shadow long behind him, Frodo stepped back, and straightened up, and a phantom of satisfaction played across his features, where he stood beside Fishenchips. "Well, my good man, when we have nourished all the fields like this, we shall sow the seed I've hoarded for the day--Shire crops, Fish, good rich food like this land hasn't grown since the entwives had it." He turned a wan smile towards his manservant. "Sounds like cause for celebration, don't you think?"
Fishenchips stared straight ahead, avoiding Frodo's eye. "The jar's near empty, sir."
"Is it indeed?" Frodo said softly, staring at his dusty feet and concealing his surprise that Fishenchips knew about the jar. "So soon as that?"
"Well, Guv, there was the time ya got half-drowned in the irrigation ditch, and the time ya got so achey from wall-buildin', and t'other times ya couldn't sleep, an'..."
"Enough! Enough." Then he tried to laugh, but didn't quite. "I suppose one cannot expect provisions of any kind to last in a land like this." Then the hobbit looked up strangely at him, and said, "But I suppose there's still some left...at least a cup? A hobbit-sized cup?"
"Aye," Fishenchips allowed. "There is one cup, by the measure o' yer people." Now they stared at each other for a moment, and then Fish said, very deliberately, "Shall we split it, Guv?"
"Split..." Frodo's face fell, where it had briefly brightened. But then he nodded, a short, tight jerk of the chin. "Yes. That would be best, I think. It isn't--exactly--a celebration, unless two or more share, is it? And only fair of course, only fair." This time he did succeed in laughing, though not very well. "After all, half a cup is plenty for a hobbit, don't you think?"
"Aye, sir--I been thinkin' that fer awhile."
Frodo gave him a sharp look.
Fishenchips cast down his eyes and said, "Aw well, I haven't worried more'n a week, an' that ain't much."
The man nodded. He wouldn't look at Frodo when he said, "Ya just can't drift, sir--not in the rough waters that we sail."
Frodo paled. "Please do not say the word, 'drift'."
"An' why not?" Now Fish stared straight at him. "He says it plenty, I'll just bet." Frodo did not answer, but Fishenchips could read his face. "Ya can't just let the river take ya where it will. Ye're still safely in the deeps right now, no doubt, but th'current's headed straight fer rocks if ya don't grab hold o' the rudder." Fish bent down to Frodo's eye-level, engulfing the hobbit's shoulder in his one big hand. "Listen--Sauron's gonna win some now an' then. He won a big one yesterday. But ya can't give up th'entire war fer that."
Frodo stared off beyond the man for a moment, and then said one word: "Gollum."
Fish straightened. "Come again?"
"Gollum. My father lost one to Sauron once, so to speak, where a creature called Gollum was concerned. A moment's cruelty nearly cost them everything." Frodo bit his lip and said, "But he didn't give up. He came close a couple times, but he didn't."
"Well, then--there ya have it!" Fish nearly knocked him off his feet with a clap to the back (and didn't hear the hobbit murmur, "But this was so much worse!") "Let's you and me see about finishin' off that jar, afore it causes any more concern."
Frodo scowled. "Actually, now that it comes right down to it, I think I have come to hate the very taste of brandy." He looked up at the man and asked. "Will you, um, will you take care of it for me?"
Fishenchips stared at him for a moment, then suddenly laughed. "Well, I'll tell ya, Guv--I've had worse orders, I can say that much!"
They started towards the tower-house, when suddenly Fishenchips stopped, turned, and peered at him with lowered brows. "Y'know, Frodo, come t'think of it, I don't 'member annerthing unusual about our mornings together this past week. Ya always come bouncin' down the stairs in that hobbit way o' yourn, all bright an' fit fer the day, eat as hearty a breakfast as I can cook, and then head off fer work with nary a complaint."
"Yes? Nothing to remark upon, obviously," Frodo said a little too airily and started towards home again, but Fish hooked his collar and Frodo had to stop or tear his clothes.
"Obviously I oughta have summat to remark upon--like maybe bleary eyes, poor appetite, an occasional flinch at loud sounds...ya know what I'm talkin' about."
"I'm afraid I don't," Frodo insisted, though his eyes looked trapped.
Fish roared in his face, "Ya went and asked him for help! Didn't ya!"
Frodo opened his mouth to speak, closed it again, and then finally, weakly but with a defiant tilt to his jaw, said, "Must I remind you who is the master here and who the servant? How dare you talk to me like that."
Fishenchip's face fell, but he said, "Never before wouldja rebuke me fer speakin' m'mind where it concerns yer best innerest...Master Gardner." And he turned and walked away.
Frodo stood there, rooted, watching the man dwindle. Then suddenly he called out, "Fishenchips?" Fish kept right on walking. "Fishenships! Please!" The man stopped but did not turn. "Fish...I am sorry." Fish sighed at that, so loudly that Frodo could hear him from a distance, then he turned and came back, and they walked together without a word for awhile.
At last Frodo broke the silence, and that in a rush of words. "This week--ever since a nightmare I can't even remember--everything has felt all wrong. I have felt, I don't know, sort of flickery, sort of unsure of my position in, well, time, if you must know. And then to have Sauron on top of all that...it was just too much, Fish. I...I weakened."
Fishenchips said nothing for a few paces, then growled, "Ya poked a right good hole i' the hull, ya do know that, doncha?"
"Ya gave him some o' yer power! No wonder ya lost a grip on yerself yesterday. Ya let him in."
"I..." Frodo had not known that one could feel dizzy with shame, that far from blushing, so much blood can run from the face that each step seems to verge on toppling into a faint. "Fish, I...I just wanted to be fit for work, to, to sleep well and then to wake up spry, but...you're right. It is my own fault if my, er, ship has sprung a leak."
Fish patted him roughly on the shoulder. "Well, well, we'll just have t'mend it, bit by bit. In the meantime, li'l buddy, I'm here t'help ya bail."
Frodo gave him sort of a smile back, then trudged up his steps with weary feet, into the cold, dark room that waited. He knew, as sure as nightfall, that without a little help he'd sit up till the dawn. One thing for sure--he found himself a whole lot more sympathetic towards Mattie and her choices. He sighed, and braced himself for a long, long night.