I Will Not Say the Day is Done
Nor Bid the Stars Farewell
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 33, Part 130
The Family of Death
March 30, 1452
Frodo (or perhaps Drift) made his way down the long, dark hall. The doorknobs sat lower on their doors than the last time, resolving out of fog as he passed and back into it again, but he didn't really notice. Querulous voices argued with shadows or themselves within each cell, but he tried to pay them no heed. Nothing to do with him. Not even in his league. Still, one pair of voices for some reason tugged at him, so that he halted and listened, almost against his will.
"Father, on my love for you, please! I do not want to continue on The Journey without you, but I cannot stay forever. Please listen to me--I know whereof I speak."
"Go, then. Abandon your father to torment. You have disappointed me. Both of my sons have disappointed me."
"Father, I can tell now when you lie to me."
"Go! You ask too much of me."
"Just let her weep with you, I ask no more than that."
"Ohhh, weep with me indeed!" A rasp of a chuckle stung the ears.
"At least invite her in and decide then as you see fit. What, really, have you got to lose?"
"The last shred of dignity remaining to me. It may not seem like much to some, yet I still remember who I am."
"Who you were. Some might say who you failed to be in the end."
"How dare you..."
"How dare I? Have you seen yourself? A man-shaped stack of ashes, painful even to look upon--where is the dignity in that?"
"Do not...please, my Son!"
"And it must hurt--I can tell it hurts. I can read it in your eyes."
"No more! Enough of this!"
"Will you turn this way, Father--will you let your gaze follow me as I step behind you?"
"No! I...I choose not to."
"Do you mean to say that in all this time--all these years--you have stood thus, with your back to the mirror provided in every cell?"
"I mean to say nothing! I do as I please, at least, in this grudging square of freedom yet allotted me."
"Please let her into your cell. You speak aright when you say that you have your freedom here--she will not enter without your invitation. But believe me when I tell you, Father, that her tears can heal--look, everywhere that they have touched me, an arrow wound has closed."
"Yet to weep with her is to admit that one has erred..."
Losers, the listener thought, and pushed himself on, glad that he had no such wrongdoing to snivel over, glad that he would not have to put up with such embarrassing company. He lengthened his stride to get as far and as fast as he could away from the whispering shades. No one would ruddy well weep over him, not once they knew the truth. Okay, so maybe he had gone over the edge just a bit there, in the end--no, not in the end! It hardly mattered, because for him there would be no end, not really. What did one bad day matter to an immortal? He stormed all the way to the hall's farthest reach, to the study pooled in a misty, silver light, and the black desk in the middle like a slab of starless night, on which a number of scrolls did not so much appear to lie as to float.
A magnificent Being sat there at the desk, as pale as bone but handsome, his face framed in long, flowing locks of blue-black hair; all dressed in black he was as well, perusing the documents spread out before him. As his eyes adjusted further, Frodo discerned that parchment did not make up the scrolls, but rather fabric--a sort of incredibly dense and fine tapestry, rich with strange symbols and illustrations woven tightly into stories, in colors bright and dark. Suddenly the Being glanced up at him and frowned.
"You are early," the Being said. "I did not send for you."
"Early? I bin wanderin' fer days an' days, just tryin' to find yer pestilential realm."
"Mm." Mandos turned back to his scrolls. "Whatever did you expect? You gave me no chance to send you any guide." The Being then gave him another glance, more piercing than the first. "You may count yourself lucky to have arrived here at all, Drift, and not without help. We might have stripped The Necromancer of his powers, yet some of his students still trouble the world, and lay snares for souls who wander where they should not be." He returned his attention to his documents, obviously in no hurry to entertain an uninvited guest.
Defiantly Frodo flipped the blonde hair out of his eyes and said, "Tain't my fault, mate. That life was beneath me. I'm here to cast m'luck on another."
The Being laid down a magnifying glass and said, "I selected that life quite carefully for the lessons you would need--and you do not get another one."
Frodo shoved down a creeping fear and laughed harshly instead. "Shows what you know, mate!"
The figure rose, and Frodo saw that he stood at least twice as tall as any man. "What I know," he said softly, "goes beyond your furthest nightmares. And I am not your mate."
"No, 'cause ya just don't get it," Frodo brazened on, despite a queasy feeling. "I have it on good authority--m'grandad was an elf!" Frodo grinned in triumph, and then his grin sort of froze, for instead of reacting to this revelation with the expected apology and awe, the Being sighed, shook his head, and sat back down to his desk. Námo rifled through his scrolls till he came upon an especially long one. "Yes--I know your grandfather well. He has stood before me many times." The Being glanced up again. "And has taken many mortal lovers. Do you understand what that means?"
Frodo threw back his shoulders. "That I'm one o' them Halfelven! I gets t'choose my kind, and I choose elf!"
"No. I am afraid it means nothing of the sort." Sighing again, the vala clasped his hands and leaned forward. "Elves take but one mate, for all of their lives."
"Well, have a heart, man!"
"Do not mistake me for a man."
"Have a heart, anyway! If he's gonna get t'gether with mortals, they's gonna die on him. Why shouldn't he take up with another when the old one kicks the bucket?"
The voice sounded deadly when the Being said, "Why not, indeed? That is, if one discards the nature granted to one's own kind and embraces mortal ways instead." He rolled up the scroll with a sudden snap. "In which case, the choice has been made--long before your birth, or the birth of all your half-brethren before you. All of the children of a mortal union shall be mortals evermore." He stood up and said, "Allow me to show you to your cell. I suspect that you shall stay with me some while before you can make the Greater Journey."
Then the Being led Frodo out of the room...except that Frodo didn't leave; he felt a kind of rip, startling yet not actually painful, and then suddenly noticed that he no longer gazed down at the top of that strange, strange desk, but rather up at its underside, at a little overhanging edge of darkness. He knew then that somehow, by some special grace, he had shared in Drift's perceptions. "He never even mentioned me!" Frodo breathed in wonder.
After awhile, as he pondered this, soft steps came up behind him, and that dread voice, just as soft, said, "Speaking of premature arrivals...why have you come here, Frodo?" But Frodo found that this time he could not answer--not with his own voice, surely. He merely stood there while the Being walked around him, back to the desk, sat down, and sorted through the tapestries. "Unless I am mistaken, you are not even dead yet." He looked up suddenly, straight into Frodo's eyes, and the Being's own eyes were black, blacker than his desk, with endless depth upon depth upon depth within. "Are you?"
"N-no sir," Frodo managed to stutter. "I don't think so."
The Being made a sort of "Mph!" noise under his breath, as he ran the scroll swiftly through his fingers, a shimmering blur. "I rarely pass judgment on unfinished tales. But if you insist..." He rose, following the broad ribbon of fabric to a door from which it issued.
Frodo heard a shuttle--or maybe a thousand shuttles, or more--flicking back and forth in there. Timidly he followed the vala,--and found himself dazzled by the brilliant light of the next chamber, which never seemed to disturb the darkness beyond it. He blinked, barely able to stand the radiance of that huge, huge room, but when his sight adjusted, Frodo could just make out an incredibly beautiful woman and more than woman, dancing among an uncountable array of looms, her many arms guiding many skeins of every color, leaping and skipping from loom to loom in a stunning choreography of hand and foot, and back again before he could blink, her fire-hued hair swirling about her in her motion, as she interwove patterns beyond his understanding. Just briefly she glanced his way, with a blaze of eyes so knowing that they left him awestruck--after he shook off the shock enough to move, he fled back into the shadows and trembled.
"Ah, here we find the record!" Námo exclaimed, returning to the comforting darkness with still more fabric in his hand. "Yes...yes...so far so good...oh. Nasty recent incident, though. I see...I suppose this explains why you have worked yourself up into this trance-state beyond dreaming, enabling us to have this conversation in the first place...yes, I see it all here--sleep privation, overwork, abuse of drink, avoidable malnutrition--one more amateur bent on punishing himself."
The Being laid down the cloth upon his desk, sat down and sighed, rubbing his eyes. "Do not presume to do my job for me, Frodo. I despise that sort of thing." Then he looked up and smiled, of all incredible things, and Frodo felt a sudden rush of warmth; he had not realized till then just how cold he had become in that lifeless room. "But I do not despise you, yourself--make no mistake on that account. I rather want to see what you make of it all."
"Of what all?" Frodo blurted and then wished he hadn't. But the smile did not abate.
"Your sin, of course. I want to see the lessons you have learned. I want to watch them unfold; I want to watch what good might spring from them. The offense? Oh, definitely punishable, if it had ended there. But it has not, has it?" Námo of Mandos leaned down to him, but in a far more kindly way than he had before to the shade of Drift. "Never forget this, Frodo: I may be the Doomsman, the Judge, the Warden of the Halls of Death and called Lord Death by some, yet my sister Nienna is the Lady of Mercy--and I love my sister very much. Her tears for all the world's sorrows move me, and I respect her wisdom of the heart, greater even than my own. It is to her that you should take your affairs, while you yet live."
Námo rose, still smiling, extending a cool hand down to Frodo. "And do not neglect Este, my dear sister-in-law, the Lady of Rest and Healing! Nor her spouse, my beloved brother Irmo of Lorien, the Lord of Dreams; he means you nothing but good, Frodo--set aside your fear of him. And set aside your fear of my wife as well, my lovely, talented, ever-nimble Vaire, Lady of Time. She has, this very hour, repaired the rent in the weave that has troubled you so much--and she thanks you for your help in that. Come, Frodo, and meet my family--into their care I commend you!"
"But I...but I...well, I wouldn't dare!"
Námo smiled more kindly still. "Do you still insist that I pronounce my doom on you? Very well, then, Frodo son of Samwise. You are forgiven."
And Frodo took the cold hand, and looking into those fathomless eyes he recognized the warm heart within, and he went where Námo led, into his brother's realm, into dreaming indeed. Much that followed after he could barely remember, except that he found rest there, and peace, and the kindness of three ladies, dark and fair and fiery, and two brothers as alike as the same scene seen by night and day, trading many an inside jest between them. And there, within the love of that strange family, he experienced an easement of his burdens so profound that words have never yet been written to encompass it.
Only a couple odd fragments of the conversation lingered in his memory, although he couldn't always recall who said what. In one he heard a voice bewail, "How clearly his spite shows, that he should choose poppies, of all the flowers in the world, to do his evil will! My gift, for rest and healing, that Manwe hallowed." "Ah, but was it spite? For if he can twist love against itself, why should he exempt our flowers? I suspect that their inherent goodness drew him, in the beginning, for part of him shall always rue what he became. And he dealt with them, in the end, precisely as he dealt with all the goodness in himself." "Remember this, Frodo--for some who make perilous enemies make still more perilous friends."
He had a longer memory for the other fragment: "Oh, Ungoliant! Such an envious little snit. Do you have any idea how tiresome her imitations became? It would have all turned out much better if she had explored her own nature and become the Ungoliant that the One had fashioned her to be. But then she never quite grasped how to imitate me, anyway, poor fool; she misunderstood everything about me--the way she obsessed, for instance, on devouring of all things, as if sheer size could make her great. Why did she never see that I always give exactly as much as I take? I am not, after all, one bit like that dreadful little riddle that your sneakiest inmate likes to tell--you know the one I mean, Darling: the escape artist. Still, 'twas a pity how Ungoliant ended, poor hungry monster--I do understand why your sister weeps for her, I really do. Yet that daughter of hers! So much potential, half-maia and all that--and now the sloven can hardly speak for lack of mental exercise! Yes, I know, raised all wrong, but she could have found better teachers if not for her laziness--so utterly self-indulgent, that one. Oh, the disgusting things she has forced me to weave into the web! I am sorry, but I can stir up very little pity for the daughter." And then those incredible, burning eyes had turned from her black-clad spouse to focus in on Frodo instead: "In one thing only does the daughter seem to retain anything of the intelligence that she once could claim. She never forgets a scent."
Frodo could remember staring, back, transfixed. And then the gentle, dark-haired lady with the ever-watery eyes passed him some especially tasty biscuits and whispered in his ear, "Fortunately, my brother's wife does not have the final say," while the fair and rosy lady to his other side poured him something as refreshing at least as ent-draughts. The conversation turned once more to merrier subjects, words he reveled in at the time, yet could not later grasp; they served their purposes like flowers that open in their day and do their blessed work, then fade to make room for others. The picnic by the lake went on, it seemed, perpetually, yet without fatigue or boredom, for Vaire could make tea-time stretch as long as she desired, yet never miss an instant of her work among the looms.
And Frodo remembered something also of dancing on the lakeside meads, as many lesser beings materialized around them and began to sing or take up instruments to play. First Nienna stood up, striking a stark pose, her black veils fluttering about her, and then she contorted to slow music that gradually whipped up faster and faster into a frenzy till she spun like a tornado of grief, wringing the last drop of misery out of Frodo's heart until he sobbed himself free, utterly free. And then the music dropped her, abruptly, and dark Nienna lunged to the ground, throbbing with her breath, till her brothers drew her up again and settled her back to the picnic with a drink to refresh her.
Next the music swelled into to a dreamy serenade, as Irmo and Este rose hand in hand, a rainbow of pastels a-shimmer about their persons. The fair-haired couple wafted through a pas de deux, luxuriously slow and sleepy at first, each leaning into the other's loving arms, a dance that eased the heart to watch, each move a line of poetry, a perfume embodied. Birds sang to watch them, and flowers sprang up in the faster and faster skips of feet that barely seemed to brush the grass, as once again the music and the dancing built up into swifter, dizzier circles upon circles, their long hair drifting straight out from them as they spun each other 'round, hand clasped in hand and leaning back, eventually whirling again to the picnic-cloth where they both dropped laughing to the ground, their arms around each other. Then Este curled up with a happy sigh and lay her head upon her husband's knee, and Irmo stroked her hair, his smile answering hers.
Finally Námo and his Vaire rose, he all dressed in black and she a complex fire to illuminate his way, her clothing all brocades within brocades in every color that has ever been. In this dance she took the lead, and he responded minutely to her every move, undiminished in his power by his fierce devotion to his wife, and they danced drama, and they danced legend, and they danced up thunder and lightning between them, stamping and whirling together in perfect harmony, consumed by the intensity of each other's gaze, gripped in each other's passion, while the music rose and cracked the sky, and the rain cascaded down, till finally Námo swept his wife up laughing into air and set her down again and the dance concluded at that stroke. For whatever Vaire began, Námo ended, and neither wanted it any other way.
But now Frodo found himself dancing in the fragrant rain, soaked and cleansed and refreshed, tripping his own Nurn-influenced mutation of the Springle-Ring, and he did not feel clumsy or inferior before his immortal company, but well-graced according to his kind, as the sparrow need not apologize for his song in the company of nightingales. Now faster and faster he danced, to an increasingly oriental music with the bells all ringing in his ears and the thunder rumbling in the background, farther and farther away from his applauding hosts until the storm grew hazy all around him...
...and he became aware of his own body in his own bed. Frodo opened his eyes with droplets glittering upon his lashes, and his tear-soaked cheeks as wet as if a tempest swept him, and he lay there crying long and hard--but for relief. Forgiven? Forgiven! The innocent have no conception of the ecstacy, the lightness, to bear so great a burden and then to suddenly find it gone! He let the pleasure rush all through him, a flood of sweet and cleansing water after foul, tingling in him with the fullness of life. And then he laughed and sprang up out of bed, and capered about the room, and sang, he knew not what he sang, he just let the music spring forth from his breast.
He saw it all again--the light of Valinor! Oh, the beauty of the stones, the stones sparkling in a shaft of sunlight, and the rafters--he saw the gorgeous wood-grain of the rafters when he tipped his head back as he danced, the beams all fluttering with veils of softest spiderwebs, and wood, too, at his feet, all rich and polished and what lovely, furry feet he had--all hobbits had the most exemplary feet! He spun around on his toes and careened back down upon the cot with a dizzy whompf! that made it skip like a kid goat and tip over under him, and only then, embarrassed but not very much, did he look up from the puddle of blankets and pillows (What wool! What linen! What feathers!) and notice Elenaril sitting in the corner, listening to his merriment and smiling. And her beauty smote him most of all--even her scars looked beautiful because of how she came by them. How could he forget? How could he have ever forgotten the truths revealed in that wonderful, wonderful light?
She rose and held out a hand in his direction. "Will you come down with me to dinner, Frodo? For you have slept through lunch and breakfast--to your benefit. And then perhaps a little more rest will do you good, once you have eaten. And afterwards, I think, tomorrow will find you quite mended enough for your work."
"Oh absolutely!" he cried, and yawned, and stretched like he felt his muscles for the first time ever--for it seemed as though he had died indeed in the company of Mandos and found himself born into a whole new life again. Everything had changed. He knew it would all work out, in the end. A miracle had happened in the midden-heap, and out spilled a rich new soil, just waiting for whatever seeds he chose to plant.