I Will Not Say the Day is Done
Nor Bid the Stars Farewell
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 31, Part 128
Faces Familiar and Unfamiliar
March 28, 1452
They had not simply planted crops. Inspired by renewed efforts to farm, the Nurnings had also planted wildflowers in every cracked pot or box that they otherwise might have discarded, and wherever cobbles had gone missing near the walls, there too the bare earth found itself sown with new seed. Now all of these plantings trailed flowers from windowsills or climbed the rails of stairs, or declared their colors on every porch wherever Frodo looked. Even some rooftops dripped vines in bloom from the eaves. Tendrils curled and leaves opened up to drink in the springtime sun, and petals danced upon the wind. It stunned him that he had become so preoccupied with Sauron and with his own sins that he had not seen any of these until now--he simply had not seen! Everywhere he went a rainbow of blossoms broke up the grays and beiges that had so oppressed him when he first arrived, turned them into a soft-hued background for the gaiety of living things. And the streets of Seaside filled with something hitherto unknown in the villages of Mordor: perfume.
"Good to see ya smilin', sir," Fishenchips said, as they made their way to the docks, strolling as slowly as possible because Leech desired to test his stamina beside them, leaning on Elenaril's arm even as he guided the blind woman.
"I have something to look forward to," Frodo said. "No, not that!" he said quickly when he saw the sudden winces all around him. "If a new keg comes with the shipment, I shall give it away. No, something else, something special." But when they asked what he spoke of, he just smiled all the more.
The spring sun warmed him and the sea-breeze refreshed him; he almost felt as though he had slept. Nevertheless the aches in his body felt gratitude for Leech's slow pace. And when they could finally sit down on the dock he felt happiest of all.
As usual, they had a long wait for the ship, but the time passed merrily as the party sat in a circle listening to Bergil and Elenaril recount the adventures of their trip about Nurn, their voices underlaid by a gentle ocean sound. Frodo lost himself eagerly in these other glad lives, resisting the impulse to nod off.
Bergil told them, "We found a whole valley full of the hives of good bees--not the vicious black bees you expect in Mordor, but the golden kind you find in the meads of Gondor, who quiet with a little smoke and let you reap some honey."
"I felt so glad," Elenaril said, the dimples around her smile humanizing her fragment of a face. "For nothing makes a better dressing for wounds than honey. You will see--we filled every jar we had, and then went back to the village for more jars--we have crammed our packs, and more shall arrive in Seaside soon."
"Aha!" Frodo tried to enter into the lighthearted mood. "So you had your chance to brew yourselves some mead after all! How fortunate that it takes mere days to..." he trailed off at the way everybody looked at him. "Speaking strictly of honeymoon tradition, of course," he finished in a small voice.
Leech asked Elenaril, "You are absolutely sure of the safety of the honey?"
Frodo looked at him. "Why? Since when would honey not be safe?"
"I have treated men who managed to steal the honey of the Mordor bee. They lay paralyzed on the Nurnen shore, trapped in a terrifying delirium for a full day and night." Leech smiled wryly. "They did not consider the experience a sweet one."
Frodo shivered and lost track of the conversation as he stared off over the sea. He found his gaze often going over the waves, almost unwillingly, the same way that as a child he used to look over the Barrow Downs, searching for ghosts and hoping not to find any. But he saw nothing out there save for the ever-restless water, flowing just like time, repetitive yet ever-changing, till his eyes blurred on the monotony.
Then, afraid that the sea might lull him to sleep, he turned his gaze back to the harbor all around him, and to the gathered citizens of Seaside. Something had changed. No more did the populace sit and stare out across the waves with the obsessed apathy of the starving awaiting food. No, these men and women clumped in conversation groups, even as he did with his friends, and their children ran and laughed between them. "Well, I have done that much good, at least."
I will not dispute it. I would even venture that you have already saved more lives than you have lost.
"Praising my efforts, Sauron? That is hardly like you."
I did not appreciate you before. I think we understand each other better now.
"Oh, really!" but Frodo did not shrug with as much contempt as he intended.
Really. I have come to value you, Frodo--you are the first friend that I have had in more years than I can count. I find that now I want you to succeed.
"You wanted to make a drunkard out of me. Is that your idea of friendship?"
If it was, it would not have been unheard of in the Shire. But I have repented of that error in my judgment.
Frodo sighed. "Then what 'friendship' do you offer this time?"
Just the consolation of numbers. I feel your guilt over Drift. There was a time when such a thing would have troubled me, too--really! I wish to point out to you that you have saved more lives than you have lost.
"Ah--I see the trap. You are trying to seduce me into reducing human life to mathematics. You want me to write off a certain amount of deaths in the hope of an eventual payoff of more lives saved, for in the process I would cease to care about lives in any sense but the abstract."
I certainly was not trying to seduce you! Sauron actually sounded hurt. You may find this hard to believe, Frodo, but I truly have come to care about you--or at least I did until now! But I was only trying to offer you the very same comfort that eased the pain in my own heart. Oh, and Frodo? Lives really are abstract. Take it from a maia--shedding a body is not particularly tragic.
"I find your friendship more burdensome than your enmity, if you think to make a fellow-soul of me," he grumbled, before he realized that his listener had, for the moment, withdrawn to sulk. Frodo looked about him, then, and saw his friends staring at him in some anxiety, except of course for Elenaril, who bit her lip. He laughed nervously, and said, "Well, what do you think? Are lives abstract? And deaths not particularly tragic?"
More silence answered him, until Leech answered, "Yes and no, Frodo. No, in the sense that we must believe that something marvelous awaits us after, in the Gift of Man. But also yes, in that we arrive into this world with certain tasks to do, and it is indeed a tragedy if we depart before we finish with those tasks."
Now Frodo's laugh came out false indeed. "You certainly know how to cheer a fellow up, Leech! Have you learned such diplomacy in your practice of medicine?"
Gravely the man answered, "I have learned that dulling pain without treating its cause is not practicing medicine at all, unless the patient is, in fact, dying." He smiled then, saying, "And I have not given up on you, my little friend. You never gave up on me, even at my most loathsome."
Frodo turned his face away, not knowing what to say or even what to feel. Again he stared out to sea, though the shimmers of sunlight on its surface hurt his eyes. And then he spied it. "The ship is coming," he said, and stood.
Soon they all could see the vessel, with a rampant stag for a figurehead, one of the black stags of Mirkwood, it looked like, yet a skillful piece of art. But Frodo hungered for a carven dragon's head, rising and bowing on the waves as it sailed on in. Oh, many things would he change if only he could rewrite history!
The ship docked. Mayor Aloe made her way to the front, as always. With the usual thumps and groans and hubbub, strangers unloaded all the bags, barrels, crates and...cages. Cages that clucked and squawked and trembled with the life inside them. A russet head poked up between the slats at the earliest opportunity and crowed like he would wake up the entire land of Mordor with his call. Frodo laughed--the first genuine, hearty laugh he'd had in days upon days without count.
"Roosters?" Bergil marveled, as another and another stretched its neck to join its fellows crowing in a gay cacophony; the man laughed alongside the hobbit, shaking his head and grinning. "We want eggs and you bought us a flock of roosters?"
"The chickens need new blood, blood that hasn't forgotten how to brood and forage. Roosters come much cheaper than hens, and will mix the genes quite well--and we can always eat them later. Tonight, however, I will set up a schedule for circulating stud service..."
"No," Leech interrupted, "Not tonight. You will not stay up all night again fussing over charts and papers."
Frodo felt himself go cold, though his body longed to agree with the medic. "I will do as I see fit. You have no authority over me, Leech--I am not some sailor on a ship."
Bergil gripped him by the shoulder, and no laughter remained in him. "I do have some authority over you, Frodo. Have you seen yourself in the mirror?"
But the hobbit only narrowed his eyes, assessing him. "If I understand your orders correctly, Bergil, you may only step in if I fail. Look at the fields up there!" he cried, waving towards the banks of green behind them, where even in the distance they could hear the faint popping of more bean-pods discharging into their sacks. "Does that look like failure to you?"
Bergil did not release his gaze, though he dropped his hand. "I will wait, then. If you continue as you have, it will not take long." When the hobbit made no answer save to stare up in defiance, Bergil sighed and said, "We can discuss this later. In the meantime, let us gather up these chickens of yours and...Lord Curudag!" For the passengers now emerged from the hold and at their head arose the sturdy Lord, stern but smiling under his patch.
"Bergil, you old wolf!" the man cried, hurrying foward. "We've seen some few winters pass into spring since first we met!" Curudag stretched out his arms for a bearhug, but they dropped, along with his jaw, when he caught sight of the woman beside Bergil. Swiftly then he composed himself, though his face had paled, and he bowed respectfully enough. "Forgive me. I...I did not see the lady present. I am called Curudag, Lord of Lossarnach." He extended a hand to her. "And milady?"
Expecting his homage from his words, she passed her own hand through the air until the traveler clasped it and bowed over it with a kiss. Low and melodious her voice, she answered him, "I know you well, Curu. And you once knew me as Beebee the Herbwife, but my name is Elenaril."
Then he stared indeed, frozen in shock, and the tears pooled in his surviving eye till they spilled down his cheek like rain down the weathered clay of the desert, and he knew her despite her scarring and her ghost-white hair. Hoarsely he whispered, "Beebee?" Then, as the flood will burst through, his stillness shattered and he rushed forward, embracing her with sobs that shook him as none of his company had ever seen the warrior shaken before. "Oh Beebee!" He clasped her close as though a daughter found. "How cruelly this land has used you! Curse every..." but she pressed fingers on his lips before he could utter more.
"Do not curse this land, which after harshness has given me blessings I never thought could ever come to me." But he could only stare in wonder as he released her, marveling at the iron within her gentleness.
Bergil stepped forward. "Lord Lossarnach, allow me to introduce my wife."
If they had expected him to smile, he did not. "Your wife? Too late have you come to your senses, Captain Bergil."
"I know. And I have paid for my folly."
Curudag eyed the ruin of Elenaril's face and said, "You have not paid alone."
To that Bergil could only hang his head, without reply. But Elenaril found Curudag's arm and said, "I did not lie when I spoke of blessings, and more than the return of a tardy spouse, though my heart calls that the greatest boon of all. Great prices may sometimes purchase great rewards. From the Nurnings I have acquired herblore that surpasses all I ever learned in Gondor, for Mordor has waxed rich in herbs beyond the records of the scholars, as the land ever strives to heal itself and grow the medicines it needs."
"Indeed?" A different tone rumbled in the warrior's voice. "Enough to justify the hopes of the King?"
"I think so. Reason enough to carve a channel through the Poros Pass, if we can but cultivate enough to share. But first must come the crops for food, or we shall have none left here to gather." As skillfully as a lady born to softer ways, she tucked his arm in hers and guided him down from the pier, her feet knowing well the route that she could not see. "But why have you come to us, my Lord? Far indeed do we lie from the courts of Gondor, and perils guard the way."
"One of those perils brings me," he said gruffly. "I hear you have a dragon interfering with commerce around here." He scowled when he said, "Captain Watersheen had more friends than one might think; businessmen of his integrity come dear on this trade route, and none have forgotten him."
Frodo found his voice at that. "For us his memory is more than a matter of trade."
Curudag noticed him for the first time, actually starting when he spoke, and looking down on him with a trace of amusement in his eyes. "Well, well--if it isn't Frodo the Royal Gardener! Good to see you alive and still unscathed, after all these months!" Then his face changed as he studied the hobbit more closely.
"Not unscathed," Frodo answered, "But alive, yes, and wiser than I was when we both stood safely within the walls of Minas Tirith, where you warned me about Mordor."
"I see we have many tales to exchange, then."
"For my part, no. It...it is all too close just yet, to tell to any but my father in my letters."
Curudag's brows bristled in a way that reminded Frodo of his dreams of Gandalf; he wondered uncomfortably if the Lord had that gift known to some of the Numenoreans, of glimpsing secrets of the heart. "I see...you have learned a thing or two since last I saw you. And one of those unspeakable griefs might pertain to the fall of Watersheen?"
"You guess well, and more than that besides." A fire leaped up in Frodo's heart just then and he said, "I have reasons enough to hate the Blue Dragon. Small though I am, I would offer you any aid that I can."
Curudag sized him up. "Small you are, yet no man of Gondor will underestimate the aid that the Little Folk might offer." He clasped Frodo's hand in his own. "Let us shake upon it then, and seal the alliance! However I might find to destroy this monster, you shall take your part in it."