I Will Not Say the Day is Done
Nor Bid the Stars Farewell
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 42, Part 139
Friends in Odd Places
April 8, 1452
On April the eighth a soft-spoken wanderer entered Seaside Village by the waters of the Nurn, carrying a small bundle of possessions on a staff over his shoulder. None of the natives had ever seen so tall a fellow, excepting Bergil of Ithilien, though a slight slouch to his back indicated that he might have once stood taller still. His keen grey eyes stood out in his well-tanned face, and lines creased his face like well-worn leather, yet the flesh beneath held as firm as any youth's, handsome in its own weathered way, and nowhere on his thin but muscular form could one see a sag or softness anywhere. His nails looked as neatly manicured as a gentleman of Gondor's, but the calluses in his handshake showed him no stranger to hard work. Only Frodo knew how carefully he had combed the golden locks to hide his pointed ears. And if Bergil recognized the clothing that the drifter wore, he merely smiled and held his tongue.
The Mayor, of course, met with him, as she did with all travelers who sought a place in her community. For many walked that land, and some were good folk, abandoning a blighted village in hopes of better fortunes elsewhere, while others, not so good, had left their homes because of banishment. After suitable questions from her and respected members of the community (among whom Frodo found himself included) she located for Lanethil a hut left empty by the latest death, and led him to Harding's smithy to take up a vacant hireling's post, saying, "After our man here shows ye the ropes, if ya gives 'im good work, ye might well end up takin' over the shop entire. 'Tis high time Harding and I came to an understandin'--fer I need a full-time man o'arms in a wild land like this." Some caught the glances exchanged between the Mayor and her Captain; nobody except for Frodo noticed a certain whitish dust in the grooves of the file that lay nearby. Lanethil accepted all with a certain quiet gratitude, and lost no time in rolling up his sleeves and picking up the extra tongs and hammer.
Sometime later in the day, when Frodo knew that Harding would confer with Aloe on his expanding duties, the hobbit went to the smithy, leading his limping donkey. Lanethil squatted down and examined the offending hoof, then broke into a grin. "You have trained your beast well," he said. "I never knew that Bleys would limp on command."
"It has come in handy a few times," Frodo said, slipping Bleys a handful of dates, "When I have wanted to fall behind the others for reasons of my own." Then, as he had promised, Frodo unfurled the tale of his own adventures while the elven smith worked on various repairs. Lanethil listened thoughtfully between hammer-blows and bellow-sighs, hissing steams and grindstone growls. They both knew well that Harding's meeting with the Mayor would last longer than a mere exchange of words. And shoeing a horse or donkey does take time, as everybody knows.
At the end of Frodo's recital Lanethil shook his head. "I must say that it surprises me, the battles of good and evil powers that fight over you, as though you had become a little Poros Pass on two bare feet! But then, what can I expect from one who has inherited a double share of destiny from two remarkable fathers?"
"Have I indeed? But in a sense you're right, I see that now. I am the pass into Mordor's future, for better or for worse. Why should powers beyond myself leave me any less contested?"
Lanethil straightened the stone-bent blade of a scythe. "Poor little perian--passes get trampled."
"Which makes us all the more firm in the long run, I expect. But I have more misfortunes than my own to concern me, and I'd like your advice on something.
"Lanethil, I know that elves have restored some folks that others despaired of ever saving. Do you know anything about healing a child who has eaten dragon-flesh?"
The elf set a half-made plowshare back into the coals, and frowned. "I knew of a cure once, long ago, for dragon-maladies of every sort--too late developed to save Turin and his sister, alas!--yet effective in other cases that never reached a pitch of tragedy fit for singing in sad songs. Unfortunately, the chief ingredient..."
"I know, I know--sage, wine, wheaten bread, and the heartblood of a dragon. We have made some of that already, and it's not working."
"Did you indeed?" The elf laid down the tongs he had lifted, about to resume his work. He gave Frodo a sharp look. "But how did you manage the magic? Ah, but I forget--you have the..."
"Magic? The recipe said nothing about magic."
Lanethil sighed, and picked up his tongs again. After he pounded the metal into the shape he wanted (in a few practiced strokes that amazed Frodo for their swiftness and accuracy) he plunged the plowshare into a trough of water and a hissing steam went up. He wiped the sweat from his brow and said, "This happens often when men copy formulas from elvish writ--they leave out the portions which they cannot translate, or cannot understand. Yes, the medicine requires what you would call magic, for lack of any better term. Or rather, it calls for something for which you have no word, which doubtless explains its omission in translation." The hammer rang for a few more strokes, this time knocking the dents out of a damaged pot, then Lanethil examined his handiwork and set the cauldron down. "But you do have what you need to remedy the omission, Frodo. You must meet me here tonight, at the rising of Earendil, and bring the serum with you."
"Tonight? Bergil will hardly stand for me leaving after dark."
"Then I suggest you sneak past him," said the elf with a smile. "No other hour will serve." He reached for a worn shovel. "Better yet, I will come to you, and help you to bring the sick child with you--for am I correct in assuming that you speak of the waif that you keep caged in a stable? I doubt that one your size--however valiant--will suffice to move her anywhere, at least not unremarked." He sat at the grindstone and began to reshape the shovel-edge in a fountain of sparks.
Over the grinding noise Frodo shouted, "I should warn you, she bites."
"I would imagine so." Lanethil set down the shovel and reached for another pot. "She would not be the first biting creature that I have wrestled, tamed, or even made friends with." He carried the pot to the appropriate anvil and set to it.
Between more ringing hammer-strokes, his ears a little pained, Frodo asked, "And how would you propose to enter my home anyway--now that wearing a mortal's clothing has made you visible once more? Would you slip in naked through the door?"
"That would not be a first for me, either," Lanethil replied with a slow grin. Then, studying the hobbit sidelong, he said, "However, I imagine I could scale that abnormally tall hazel tree that grows by your back window and save us both some embarrassment."
"Hazel tree?" and with that Frodo sped out the door and leaped on Bley's back, while Lanethil laughed knowingly and returned to his anvil. The little ass reared like the showiest champion's steed, braying his heart out, and took off at a gallop all the more impressive for an animal so woefully lame mere minutes before. Racing past hovels and stalls, clattering through the narrow streets, Frodo's overlong hair whipped in and out of his face as wild as the donkey's mane, but he hardly cared. They careened around corners and narrowly missed shocked pedestrians, who hurled words at their backs as they rode on.
At last he reached the tower-house. Leaping off the donkey's back, Frodo winced to see no hazel-wands visible from this side, but he did not lose hope, he ran around behind. And yes! There she stood, in the corner between the tower and the barn, stately and fresh, crowned by pretty little crimson flowers in her twiggy hair, like a maiden of half her centuries.
"Hazel!" Frodo cried, and ran forward to hug the trunk. "How I've missed you, my dear, dear friend!" He thought he felt the great form wobble just a little, like some deep laughter of joy shook her from within. "Have you seen the fields, how they prosper? But of course you have! Have I done well enough? Do I please you, ancient gardener?" A happy sigh answered him, as though wind passed through the branches, though he felt the stillness of the air. "Oh, good! I hoped you would approve."
He stared up her height, stretching all the way to his topmost window, and a playful mood came on him. "Hazel, how would you feel about accommodating friends who might, uh, want to visit me, you know, by a back way?" He felt his face burn as he realized that his imagination did not restrict itself to the entry of the elf, but he pushed those thoughts down forcefully. A ripple of merriment passed through the tree and the great crown nodded; the eyes had sunken too deeply for him to catch a wink, but a twinkling of the blossoms practically shouted the same signal.
"May I give it a try, myself?"
Again the floral crown nodded. Frodo saw no branches in his reach at first, but he climbed up onto the great ridges of roots and espied first one, then another bulge or indentation, shaped quite handily for hobbit fingers and toes. Soon he reached the first bough, and from there swung up from wand to wand, each one happening to sway within reach of the next, so that he laughed for the sheer pleasure of it, in dizzy loops and leaps, the wind in his hair and the perfume of flowers in each breath. In no time at all he made it all the way up to his window.
He laughed again, triumphantly, and climbed back down the way he came, then gave the entwife another hug. "Oh marvelous!" he exclaimed. "Thank you! Oh thank you!" Then his brows knit for a moment. "Uh, you do realize, of course, that I wouldn't like just any beast to come this way--only friends. Can you perceive the difference between those who like me and those who mean me harm?" The wood groaned in a growling kind of way, and then the blossoms twinkled again, and he got another nod. "Excellent! You truly are a friend in need!"
And so, with a laugh and a skip, he went back to the beckoning work in the fields, leaving behind him the great, mad creature, fretting his window with her long and twiggy fingers.