I Will Not Say the Day is Done
Nor Bid the Stars Farewell
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 30, Part 127
Sleepless in Seaside
The letter had stopped showing any margin decoration at all, just the heavy black lines that told Sam his son did not want any eyes but his to read this part...page after page after page.
March 19, 1452--"A second day has come and gone without the gift of sleep. A second day calls me out to work. I shouldn't complain. You went for days without sleep on your own mission in Mordor. If you can do it, so can I."
"Lunch break. The good news is that we actually have real lunches now. The bad news is that lots of dragon-thoughts keep troubling me. If I could just surrender to being bad, admit that I already am bad and embrace my state, I could do anything I pleased, quit this job, shrug off all responsibility, and so on. Old news. A few new twists--since the Blue Dragon defended her young, I find myself thinking that maybe I could still have a family life, set apart from whatever I do to get by. Tempting--and I admit this to you because one of the thoughts was, 'Papa need never know.' So that's my warning that I had better tell you.
"The men sing as they work, and all the hoes soon fall into the rhythms of the songs. Mine, too; it almost feels like sleep to surrender to the music. It wails straight through me. It hurts and it cleanses and it comforts. You'd have to be here to understand."
"Dinner time. I'm home, now, and the usual foul creatures snuffle outside just on the other side of this wall at my back. Tired--only you would know how tired. I had to do the work of three today, because Starboy never showed up, and Drift, well, you know about Drift. We came across Starboy, though, on the way home, reeled against a wall, all flushed and grinning, because that coin I gave him went a long ways for one so young. A couple of the sailors helped him home before night could fall--some have seen Kitty prowling around again.
"Remember what you told me about sharing thoughts with you especially the bad ones? To sap their power. Well, I had some bad thoughts right then, all right. You have to understand how it exhausts me to wrestle with everything in my head all the time, the temptations and the guilt and the memories, and to stay up fearing nightmares all night long. Well, I looked on Starboy's happy, stupid face, and I thought, "Now there's a way to stop the thinking!" I yearned for that same peace, or indifference at least, to reduce all memories of Drift to a friendliness that addresses neither the horrors of the past nor the emptiness of a future where his absence gapes and throbs like an undressed wound. I longed once more to feel my body slowly go numb around me, all the aches of sleeplessness dissolving in each sip, even as my mind and heart and soul go numb, and horror slips away like something cast upon the sea, slowly carried off in a stately, drunken dance, rising and falling upon more and more distant waves. And then, at last, I could surrender, not quite to sleep, but to that unconsciousness which invites no dreams, rest without price, knowing nothing. Oh, how much I wish now to unknow!
"So it has come to this, that all of that business with the brandy--I guess you have probably figured out by now what I have done most nights for a week, you're no fool--hasn't all been about silencing Sauron. I have been silencing myself as well. I have come to like not listening to my heart. Papa, when I realized this, for the first time in a long while I pulled out the glass that May gave me, on its horsehair cord, and I thought to myself, 'I could set it aside any time I want--maybe I need nothing more than that. Legolas did say that mother-spells fade if we who receive them do not want their gifts. But instead of pulling it off of my neck I found myself kissing it, remembering sweet May, and slipping it back into my shirt.
"But I do wonder if it plays some role in making things so flickery around me. It's time, time, time, all jumbled together. Every step feels like a thousand possible steps, every stroke of the hoe, every move I make, like the echoes that reverberate in the throat of a bell that just won't stop clanging. Or maybe that's just because I'm tired."
Water splotches blurred the ink and warped the paper of the next page, but a careful hand had retraced the letters again so that Sam could read it.
March 20, 1452--"Still no sleep. Just as well. No nightmares that way. Maybe I should swear off sleep like I swore off brandy, for this wakefulness does give me the benefits of strong drink, without having to ask Sauron for a little help in the morning. I stumble about in a cloud of drowsiness, but it does no good when I lay down. Is this what Legolas went through, waiting for us at the inn in Bree? But it is not so bad, once you get used to it. Except for the ache in the neck from holding your head up all the time. And the eyes. They long for hours to close, just close, and to see nothing."
For a little while Sam saw a passage free of dark lines framing it. He guessed his son must have written it during the noontime break, for field-dust flecked the ink.
"We started second sowing today. This time I had good soil, and a plow to ply it with, and Bleys to pull the plow for me. And I had every kind of seed to sow--oats and barley, turnips, radishes, onions, carrots, beans of every kind, and sallet-peas and soup-peas, and celery and rhubarb, and greens in the hollows where we could set them up with shade. When the next ship comes I'll put in some potatoes--we ate the last batch up.
"It felt good to get the leads in my grip, to wrestle that beautiful plow into line while Bleys tugged it along with all his strength. I have never handled such a plow, slicing into the soil as smooth as a fish slides through water; it wouldn't have taken any wrestling at all if I had used it anywhere but Mordor. But the ground's still a bit tough by Shire standards, all our remedies notwithstanding. Still, I almost think I could cleave a row through solid rock with that dwarf-made elvish share."
And then the dark lines came back again upon the page. "But oh, Papa, I am so bone tired I can hardly tell you."
By now Sam could tell when his son wrote at morning, at noon, and at night. The letters no longer enlarged to be seen the better in dimmer light, but in the evening weariness crept into them, making the lines shaky, curving into downward arcs. Yet he glanced back and it seemed to him that the handwriting changed more than that. It felt to him like several day's worth of entries, not one, but he couldn't prove it. He shook his head and read on.
"You remember me talking about a girl who went down into the cellar with me, bringing us the first goat cheese? Crookyteeth, she's called, but at least her teeth are clean and white, not like anyone who smokes the poppy-gum, and she smiles kindly with them. Well when we got back from the fields, we found her sitting right there inside the Tower-House! She must know how to pick locks, because I always lock the doors coming and going, ever since I got robbed on my very first day at Seaside. But she came to give, not take--that is like her. This time she brought eggs. The chickens have increased production again, and I can't say I'm sorry to see a change from cheese. She wanted to bring the food down into the cellar again--in my company. You can at least be proud of your boy for this, if nothing else, that I did not take her up on it, but paid her courteously for her trouble and parted company with her after only one small kiss. Naturally, Sauron had comments to make afterwards."
Sam never did figure out how the page got so marred. But Frodo had not quite filled his father in on the details of that conversation. As soon as the door had closed behind Crookyteeth, Frodo had pelted up the stairs to his room and slammed the door. He stripped off all his clothes and grabbed up the pitcher, then stood in his tub while he poured cold water all over himself, gasping till he almost sobbed. For poor, bony Crookyteeth had much improved since Frodo had made meals something of a regular occurrence in Nurn, and everything in him cried out for that new softness that he saw on her, having so little softness in his life. And then, still dripping wet, Frodo threw himself onto his bed and punched the pillow over and over, crying, "I'm bad! I'm bad! What is the matter with me? Why can't I just let myself enjoy the fact? Why must I feel only the torture of my disgrace?"
Why not, indeed? But instead of mocking him, the Dark Lord had actually sounded sympathetic. With uncharacteristic gentleness Sauron confided, Frodo, you remind me too much of myself! I remember precisely this moment in my own life, when I realized that no matter what I did, no matter how I tried, the Valar showed no satisfaction in my work that I could feel--and still, fool that I was, I longed to please them! Frodo hugged his pillow, shivering and soggy, listening. There comes a point, Frodo, when you cannot turn back. You have become too defiled. The Valar will not have you--you feel it in your heart, do you not? You might as well go forward on the path before you--for you might discover some separate good, outside their ken, that fits who you are now.
"But I don't want that!" Frodo roared, weeping in a fury. "I want...I want...I want to turn back time! I want to undo what I did to Drift, make it never happen!"
To his surprise, and through his tears, Frodo heard pain and pity in the Dark Lord's voice. Alas, that does not work. I have tried it myself, and all that waits upon that choice is more disaster.
Frodo sat up. "Then there is a way?" Silence followed. "Answer me, curse you!"
It does not work.
Then Frodo took his magic lens in hand, and realized that for that one moment Sauron told him nothing but what he himself believed to be the truth, devoid of games, or malice, or intention to deceive. "Tell me how," Frodo demanded. "Teach me this magic."
Frodo, you saw for yourself that it does not work. That is the nightmare that you cannot recall. The Meddler stole your memory.
"Then I want it back! Can you give it back to me? How much of my power will it take? It is yours, if you give me this one thing, if you give me back that dream and show me how to turn back time!"
The longest silence of all had oppressed the room, before the Dark Lord said, in tones of pride and pain, of bitterest shame and anger to feel that shame, No. I will not. and Frodo felt him withdraw for the first time in days upon days, and to his shock he found that he missed Sauron, that old, familiar voice that kept the long and sleepless nights from crushing him in silence; he missed the conversation of the one person that he knew could understand.
"Just how bad am I?" he had whispered to the ceiling.
But none of this made its way into the letter. Instead, Sam read:
"Papa, you know so many stories--do you know any about time? Do you know if anybody mortal ever traveled backwards in time and changed things? Of course, how would we know if they did? Perhaps we might have gone through everything already, a dozen times, a hundred, a thousand and all those other lives still worse than this--we might be living the best improvement so far. But I am not satisfied. I want something better than the life I have made for myself.
"Somebody has messed with time before this--I can feel it. I can feel the tiredness in the land, of being worked over, scrubbed of old mistakes till it fades and goes threadbare--or maybe that's just me, the way I feel from not sleeping for three days running.
"Or maybe it happens at night, when we don't pay attention, all this shifting around in the sequence of things, past rushed into future, future melting back to past. I will sit up. I will watch for it. I will see what powers sneak past us in the dark. The bed is too cold and wet to lie in, anyway. They cannot fool the vigilant, not someone who never sleeps."
Horror filled Sam's face. "This has gone on too far!" he cried, jumping from his seat with the letter still held out before him. "I have got to get word to Strider and put a stop to this. I will find another gardener. Nobody can ask me to do this to my son."
Rosie squeezed his arm and told him, "Word will get through. You picked the right messenger. You did all the right things." She led him back down to the settee. "You can't just leap up now in the middle of the night, miles away, and somehow make it all better. It might all be solved by now, anyway, whatever's going on--you don't know."
"I sent word, but I didn't send another gardener. I should have done."
"Leave it to the King. He will know what's best." Her eyes looked huge and brimming in the candlelight, but she said, "I remember everything you told me on that man. We can trust him, Sam."
"May 21," the letter went on, "1452--Happy Liberation Day! That's what we call it here in Mordor, although some of the old-timers still call it the Day of the Conquest. And Happy Birthday, Elanor! Don't let time slip away from you, dear sister--be thirty-two forever, just one year shy of coming of age, don't ever grow up, don't ever take on those burdens, just stay your fair and careless self!"
"He's scrambling up his dates again," Sam murmured. "What's got into that boy? But he should at least remember his own sister's birthday!"
"At first I could get nobody together to go out into the fields--who wants to work on Liberation Day? But when I told them we could make our first harvest they scrambled for it, snatching up baskets for the firecracker-beans, which had already started to burst from the pods inside the bags we've pulled over them, so that whole fields of beans crackled and rustled and popped when the sun heated them up, virtually harvesting themselves for us--so strange, all those beanstalks twitching like I had a field of entlings waking up. And so strange to hold First Harvest on the first official day of Spring! I thought it would take all day, but we gathered up basketfuls in no time at all, just opened up the bags and let the food pour out--believe it or not, we have finished already, well before noon. A few bottles made the rounds throughout, in honor of the day, but that's all right, it's not like we wielded scythes or hoes or anything like that--I never heard tell of anyone getting hurt in a basket accident! Now every house gives off a steam of cooking beans, savory and good, with goat cheese melting into it. We shall all need something on our stomachs, for they're rolling out the barrels; I can hear them sloshing down the lane."
The handwriting changed slightly, just a bit careless, but expansive and free.
"Celebration's in full swing, now, with the sun dancing high in the sky, dizzy dazzling sun. Won't come down for a drop like the moon might, but you can't hold a party in the moonlight around here, no siree, you get uninvited guests with fangs.
"We have so much to celebrate! An actual harvest! And I made it happen. I am the reason that everyone eats well today and toasts the Liberation on full bellies. And I am the reason Drift isn't here to enjoy it, but we mustn't dwell on that, look at all the grateful people pouring me another drink, I must not be bad if so many people want to see me happy, right? I have looked forward to this day from the moment I set my foot out of Bag End, and by Yavanna I intend to enjoy every drop of it!"
Now the handwriting grew a little broader still and a little loopier where Sam read, "Did you know that we hobbits make our shirts so ample that you can fit three human sailors inside one before it rips wide open? They just had to test out how many it would hold. Of course they're a scrawny lot around here, but I'm fixing that as fast as may be. I laughed so hard I almost split my britches, too, but they're sound, no problem but you should have seen the look on their faces when the shirt tore and all three fell on the ground, trying to hold onto each other and regain their balance. I am sweltering hot, so I don't mind going without a shirt. Hey, the way the ladies coo over this scar, I might never put a shirt on again! They want to hear all about my battle with the orc, and how I lost most of the blood in my body, and every last detail that I can remember, and they just keep the jug flowing and the kisses coming.
"I am being good, though. No brandy. Just like I promised. Good and also handsome, too. Everybody tells me. Not just me saying that. This grog what you call the black drink or whatever it gets better with every sip. But no brandy. I am through with that. The music is quite intoxating enough. And dancing the spinglring. They are starting to catch on about springliringinging, too, although a few dancers slammed right into me. Clumsy them. No harm done I am as right as rain.
"Saurons being good, too. He says hes enjoyng the party too much to make trouble. Don't make sense to me, party's in honr of his downfall, but he just says feels too good to fuss he shares censations in my body.
"CURSE him! Thats one of his tricks hes been playing triks allalong! He wants me to enjoy and I do but this is a special ocation apropriat time for a few drinks but its been more than a few and curse me but I've come to like it too much and just wat he wants!"
Sam nevertheless noticed a distinct drop in the quality of his son's handwriting as he read further down the page.
"Parties get lonely you know that? Soemtimes all these peple around and they don quite connect. I want to but I dont dare maybe theyll get dirty if I get too close because I am not really good, am I? So I sit here on the side and write and drnk insted of talk. I want friends and I want happiness and I want sleep but well hey you cant have everthng you want thats what I tried to tell Drift but he took it all wrong. I want Oh, my dear father, I want some thngs so bad the longing scalds me up inside! I long for Kingsfol just a few leaves to give me peace from nightmares for a time. This might sound crazy, what with so much serious going on people swimming into dragon jaws and all, but I long to share with you my pickle carrots, just so you can taste my life here what its like. I long to give my sister Rosie new and interestng yarns, to see the plessure light her face. I long to give my brother Robin one of the black shells upon this shore hes alwas wanted a shell. I long to hear that you have May's affairs well in hand and moving towards a safer resolutin. I long to hear a music that Ive never heard before, played upon the banks of the Brandywine. And no I am not drinking brandy anymor."
Sam sat up in alarm. His wife clutched his arm and asked, "What now?"
"He's saying things he ought not to know about just yet. Something has gone wrong, very wrong indeed!" Sam held the letter close under the nearest candles, fighting the increasing illegibility to read on.
"Oh heavns Bergil and Elenaril!" the words scrawled wildly across the page. "All rosy and happy, say they timed it to arrive on Librashn Day, shakng hands all round and Elnaril gives hugs and askng whers Frodo but I don't want them to see me like this not this bad no! If I keep riting they wont see me she cant see anyway but I just glanced up and that trator Fishchips wispers Bergil and Bergil looks all concerned strait at me!"
Sam could barely make out the final entry for the day: "Too much talkng too much grog and too much talking all kind and sym pathetic Leech Bergil Sauron Elenril Leech Drift Fish even Crookyteeth are you okay Frodo? Alo took the cup rit out of my hand. Stop look at me all of you! Havent slept in 4 days!!! Dont they unrstand that??? Too much talk and not enou sleep. Keep ritng dont feel so sick riting but the pen brush all over and blots. Just want to sleep not feel not dream not think just blank out everthng maybe tonite mayb tonit I can get away with sleep if only they will just shut up if only Saur" After that point an arc of ink and a blot marked where his son lost consciousness.
"Well, he must have survived the experience," Sam muttered, for the next page read, "March 22, 1452" in a small but legible hand.
"Well, Papa, if you are as ashamed of your son's performance last night as I am, you may at least know that he has been properly punished. Elenaril knows her remedies, but she cannot match Sauron in this regard and no, I will not turn to him again. Even so, her green drink has at least put me on my feet again. It does nothing for bruises, though--I think I must have danced too recklessly last night.
"After the green drink and a bite, I set out all ready to put in a good day's work, but the red glow in the sky turned out to be the sun setting, not rising. Elenaril told me I should go straight back to bed and catch up on all the sleep I've missed, but I don't want to. I don't know what dreams might wait for me. I had a strange one last night (or today, I should say) and a sense of more behind it that I cannot now remember; it has left me as shaky as anything. (Yes, the black drink cheated me--it did not block the dreams.) So Leech came in and told me the exact same thing that Elenaril had, in a sterner manner, trying to speak with the authority of his training--as if I would value his education more than hers. And then came Bergil, sternest of all, with one of his man-to-man talks as he calls them but I am not a man and I doubt that all he says applies to me. One thing I will agree on, however, that all three stressed (to my mortification!) and that is that so long as Sauron grapples with me, spiritous drink and I are not friends, whether the beverage be brandy or no. At this point I fear the taste of beer.
"This is not how I imagined spring beginning. I thought I would rejoice when Bergil and Elenaril returned. I thought First Harvest would crown all of my achievements to date, and justify my presence here. I look back over this letter, and I realize that I didn't even mention the brilliant flowers blooming on the beanstocks, the fields a dazzlement of blazing reds and pinks, before they fell off and pods followed after. I didn't mention the clouds of flowers all over the buckwheat, a sort of brownish white confection of flowers within flowers the color and texture of Aunt Daisy's old lace shawl. I forgot to mention the brilliant wildflowers in all the hues of fire and some purply-blue as well, growing in between the rows where Elenaril told me to sow them, to confuse the insects with their scent. Whether I myself am bad or good, beauty remains in the world. And maybe I am like the world: a mixture of good and bad, but still quite capable of bearing fruit.
"I know I am not what I should be. I spoke to Elenaril, confessing everything. I sought some remedy to put me right, you know, on a deeper level than the green drink healing a sore head. But she said she cannot purify my spirit so soon after the last time; she has not the strength. She told me, 'I have done what I can for you. Sometimes there is no magic solution. Sometimes you have to gain your own willpower back the slow way, one step at a time. Exercise it, and it will grow.' I feel about as fit for exercise as a new-hatched chick. But whatever they say, staying awake does exert my will.
"Oh. The dream. I can't recall much of it now, but the New Year's party continued on in my sleep. I remember raising a toast in ent-draughts with Fangorn, laughing, sitting on his shoulder in a swaying ride as he carried me through Treegarth. But I also raised a few at The Cloven Horn in Osgiliath, and that felt a whole lot loopier; I thought it dangerous and exciting to mix drinks with something or other, some kind of enchantment, and I sang, oh how I sang dangerous songs! Yet again, I wept bitterly staggering through ghostlands of a sort, here and not here, disconnected and yet holding on by merging with all sorts of miserable happy people, feeling their intoxication but it couldn't staunch the wound, not the ripped off finger, everything bled out as fast as I drank them in, but I was not the other Frodo, I was something much grander and more dreadful, and I felt cold, so cold I thought I would never warm again. All of this at the same time, Papa! Like I had become different people, simultaneously, dizzy with distances and times all spun into each other. And I didn't like it. It made me wake up sick.
"So I think you will understand if I sit up awhile and map out crop rotations for the next year. I have plenty of paper; we have started a local industry of making paper from reeds. A swamp nearby has choked on so many reeds, and they spring up as fast as you can cut them down. I could write and draw all night long and not fear wasting the paper on a few discarded drafts."
"No, Son," Sam murmured sadly. "After all that I have taught you about dreams, I'm afraid I don't understand, not at all."