I Will Not Say the Day is Done
Nor Bid the Stars Farewell
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 39, Part 136
A Meeting on the Outskirts of Town
April 6, 1452
It surprised the men when Frodo declared a holiday--no work beyond seeing to the comfort of the animals. It struck them as especially odd under a bright day's sun, with just enough breeze to cool the work without stirring up too much of the dust of the field. But when he explained that today was his father's birthday, they thought they understood, and rejoiced to hear it. They promised to raise many a toast in the old hobbit's honor, and that made Frodo smile, though his eyes remained misted by a distance none dared try to breach, not even the men of his own household. So he waved them gladly enough on their way to their own celebrations, and he turned to walk the other way.
Even from a distance Frodo could hear the merriment ring out from the Blue Dragon, bursts of laughter, trills of song, and the smile returned to his face, in a quiet kind of way. Bergil would understand why he shied from joining the others at the inn. Bergil would assume that he occupied himself at home, writing or perhaps drawing, or maybe leafing through his collection of pressed weeds, trying to puzzle out his own field-scribbled notes.
But Frodo wandered out beyond the city walls, beyond the fields, too, out to where the wild things grew. He walked, at first, at a tentative amble, but yearning drove him, faster and faster until at last he ran, leaping from stone to stone, his Mordor-hardened soles dodging the many pricking-things and cutting edges with a now-unconscious expertise that almost seemed to require eyesight in his toes.
He needed aloneness, not just from the company of men, but from everything that men had ever shaped or handled. He needed to feast upon a nourishment that no one could serve upon a plate. He needed to listen, undisturbed, to that song without melody which rustles through the leaves that grow where no hand planted them.
Few things of artifice alone he brought with him: his elvish blade, the hobbit-fashioned clothes upon his back, the elven-glass that never left his breast, and one other thing also that no human hand had shaped. For he alone of all his company knew that on this day fell not only his father's birthday, but also Elvish New Year. At last, panting a little, he sat down upon a stone, and gazed long across the countryside before he drew from his pocket and cradled in his hands a piece of tile--tile from a healing pool of mud, picked up, it seemed, another life ago. And he thought long upon what Drift had said, in that dream that had been no dream, in the Halls of Mandos.
Legolas had proven, the hard way, that none of the known tribes of elves had strength enough left to bear the lingering darkness that stained the land of Mordor even now. But what of the Moriquendi--the Dark Elves? Someone had come here of the Eldar kind, and might linger still. Frodo felt within himself the yearning that welled up sometimes in his father's line, skipping generations, hushed more tightly among the Harfoots than the Fallohides but present nonetheless--that yearning for elves and marvels beyond themselves, as deep as the elvish yearning after Valinor. Indeed, if anything, some of the Gamgees, over the years, had made themselves harsher and more practical than anyone in the Shire, precisely because they feared the power in that passion that none dared mention, that could wake the stolidest farmer in the middle of the night and leave him staring at the moonlight like he would climb the beams clear up into sky.
And so Frodo Gamgee Gardner took special, secret pains to surround himself utterly in nature on this, of all days, all alone with an artifact shaped by elvish hands. "Atelanedhil," he murmured, tracing the tengwar script incised upon the tile. "Lost elf. It sounds like a sad title. Did you call yourself that, or did others name you? I suppose you must be lost indeed to find yourself here."
He thought that he could make out designs within designs within the glaze--perhaps other words, still more finely inscribed? He pulled out May's glass to study the writing more closely--and gasped! Long, slender fingers lay across the tile, not quite touching his own brown ones--fingers with curling gray claws!
He leaped back, cursing his stupidity in going off alone like that, even as he freed Sting from the sheath. "Back orc, back!" he cried, brandishing the blade at the fanged creature before him with its unkempt yellow hair. "I have slain your kind before--even a fallen knight of the retinue of Curufin!"
"Frodo," said a shockingly melodious voice, as the creature, far from crouching orc-fashion, straightened to a tall and willowy form. "Frodo, look to your sword." Yet he himself stood unarmed, with open hands.
"What about my sword and how do you know my name?" Frodo squeaked, but did not let down his fighter's stance.
"I have watched you since you arrived, Frodo son of Samwise, and shadowed your steps closer than you might believe. Indeed, betimes, when evil went afoot, I have even slipped into your home before you barred the door, and stood guard over your sleep."
"Oh really! I find that hard to believe!"
"Underneath your bed you keep a jar, with a vine-like design etched into the clay. You have long since emptied it, yet still it smells of strawberries; I presume that once it held your mother's homemade jam. For sometimes, when you seem to feel most lonely, you pull it out and inhale deeply from it, seeking perhaps the savor of the wild berries of home."
Frodo paled, but he said, "Sorcery! This foul land has many ways to spy out secrets."
"And all of those ways, trained long by the use to which they have been put, gravitate towards scandalous or strategic secrets. The magic of Mordor cannot readily attune itself to aught so subtle as the scent of strawberries. But see! Does your weapon show even the slightest trace of a glow?"
"N-no..." Frodo almost lowered the weapon, but raised it quickly when the creature looked as though it might step forward. "But Mordor crawls with fell beasts of every kind. What are you?"
The creature sighed and sat back down upon the stone that Frodo had just vacated. "I suppose that I have let my appearance go again--being most often invisible makes it hard to remember, I must confess." How beautiful that voice! But so did dragons sound when casting spells. "Yet all the weapons shaped by elves will glow with rage at any who have betrayed their elvish blood, becoming orcs. I have not always behaved well, I do confess, but at least I have not betrayed who I am, not really." He hung his head and admitted, "I have come close."
"Elvish blood? You don't look like any elf that I have ever seen." Yet something in Frodo began to soften, quite against his will.
The creature smiled ruefully, crooked fangs distorting the smile here and there, although Frodo did see, now that he paid attention, something elvish about the eyes. "Bad grooming. I admit it. Tell me Frodo--mortals sometimes suffer from...tooth pangs? No, toothaches. That is what they call them--aches of the tooth. Is that not so?"
"Do you think that an immortal existence would appeal to anyone who possessed such vulnerable, mortal teeth?"
"No, I suppose not."
"There, you see--our teeth regenerate, more or less continually. To keep them properly worn down, elves in better lands habitually chew on wood each evening, before they go to bed."
"Like an animal? Oh, I don't believe that!"
"Even the Queen of Gondor--you see, I do keep up with events. I listen everywhere."
"What a disgusting notion!"
"Is it really? We find it completely natural, although we have been discreet about it among mortals ever since we discovered that they do not do likewise." He scratched a stubbly chin with thoughtful claws. "We did not want to rub our superiority in their faces, you see, in yet another detail--especially not when the poor things suffer pain."
"I still find it absurd."
"Have you heard the stories of Finrod Felagund?"
"Yes. My father has taught me all of the old tales."
"All that mortals know, at least, but I gathered they would remember that one. For they have titled Finrod the Friend of Men--and with good reason. He cherished mortal-kind. He saw in them a certain rough sweetness of...well, of a land like this, which I have seen you admiring, yourself. Oh yes, I believe the two of you would have found kindred spirits in each other." He gazed off as if lost in memory.
Frodo found himself lowering his sword; no orc, at least would speak of sweetness in mankind, except perhaps in the stew-pot. "And what is your point?"
"Think, Frodo. Finrod accompanies Beren and others on an assault against Morgoth. Morgoth casts them all into a dungeon. Every so often a werewolf slips in and eats another of Finrod's elves. Finally, when none remain save for Finrod and the man, Finrod attacks the werewolf, and slays him by tooth and nail, as the bards recount, though he dies of his wounds for his efforts, and only the man goes free. Tell me, Frodo--why do you think that he waited for so long?"
"He waited for his teeth and nails to grow out, to where he could fight as the werewolf's equal. Morgoth, you see, neglected to provide his prisoners with basic tools of hygiene--such as little bars of wood." The creature looked around him wistfully. "I find wood hard to come by around here, I fear, and better left to grow than to waste on vanity. And the driftwood, of course, soaks up poison." He sighed again. "Ah well! At this point I will need a file to put myself in proper shape; I suppose that I can borrow one from...what is the latest smith's name again? Harding. I can borrow one some night from Harding's smithy, and give it back by dawn, and he would not be the wiser."
"Oh come!" Frodo clung to his skepticism, although he felt the lens begin to thrum and warm in a happy sort of way. "I have traveled with an elf and never saw him...oh wait." He thought he could remember Legolas idly nibbling on a twig now and then as they rode.
"Did you follow the elf when he would retreat into the bushes before bedding down?"
"I didn't, but Gimli...but no one keeps secrets better than a dwarf, come to think of it." At the shocked look on the creature's face he hastened to add, "It wasn't like dwarves...I mean, dwarves aren't like they say...as far as I know...I mean...Look--Legolas had gone mad and needed a keeper; it had nothing to do with...with what some might think. We had to keep the poor elf on a chain until we could lead him to healing."
"Gimli son of Gloin. Of course. And Legolas son of Thranduil. I have heard of them. Was that him, then, the elf that I saw here in Nurn a few years back? What a tragic twist in a noble story, then! I believe I witnessed the very moment that he snapped."
"Then why didn't you help him?" The sword came up again.
"I tried to, but a great darkness rushed between us, and I swooned. When I awoke he had gone." The feral elf narrowed his eyes suddenly. "And I perceive that selfsame darkness hovering about you now, Frodo. Perhaps I should be the suspicious one, asking questions of you." The creature stood. "I have known the like before--hovering about Turin Turanbar, as it so happens." Frodo's scalp prickled when the stranger peered closer. "Yet I sense no inordinate pride in you for it to feed upon. Your tale might turn out better."
Now that is something you can take pride in, Frodo.
"Shut up, Sauron."
The stranger drew his head back, eyes widened, but once again his crooked smile broke across his face. "Oho! So it is the Dark Lord himself--and yet you can say to him, 'shut up'? Then all that I have heard of the periannath is true!"
Frodo surprised himself by grinning back. "It never works," he said. He sheathed his sword. "Maybe what everyone says about me, at least, is true, that I'm as barmy as Legolas--for surely I should have my head examined for trusting you. Yet somehow I do. Even as my namesake once said of the disguised king--you look foul and feel fair. Frodo Gardner at your service." He bowed and extended a hand, and the elf shook it, gently, taking care not to snag him with the claws, and the slender hand felt warm.
"Lanethil at yours and your family's. Indeed all elves everywhere owe service to your family." He also bowed, with a flourish that belied the rags he wore.
Frodo smiled wryly. "I see you have been drinking, Lanethil."
"It is the New Year--what else would you expect? I ferment my own for special occasions." He pulled a wineskin from under his cloak. "Would you like...but no. I can feel the darkness quiver with the hope that you might share this with me."
Frodo could not now mistake the elven grace in every gesture. "No, I'm afraid I cannot share a drink with you, Lanethil. But the tales of elves can intoxicate like wine. Tell me your story, and I will tell you mine."