I Will Not Say the Day is Done
Nor Bid the Stars Farewell
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 44, Part 141
A Drop of Rain
April 10, 1452
Mayor Aloe strolled beside Frodo through the empty pond, dust puffing around her skirts like a dirty gray flounce. "We've had too few rains this winter, and too short. And we should've had at least one good soaker so far i' the spring, and that hasn't come."
Frodo stuffed his fists deep in his pockets, wordless in his fears.
"'Tain't the first year like it, neither. We've gone on this way, pretty much, fer the past decade. Even the plants as store their own water feel the pinch." She glanced up at some kaktushes growing by the rim, and the gardener in Frodo took note of how the pads had flattened, in a ripply, dented sort of way; some even looked concave. "One o' the wells has already given out," Aloe added. "T'others look mighty muddy."
Still Frodo said nothing. The clouds of dust smelled gritty and mineral-hard; he felt it settle on his face and hands and feet, a powdering of grime.
They climbed up out of the depression and into the surrounding desert. Aloe swayed, with practiced steps, around the reaching limbs of katushes, so that nothing snagged the flounces of her skirt or the tassels of her shawl. Frodo still got caught by the sleeve now and then, and had to stop and untangle the fabric from the thorns. He now saw areas in the midst of kaktush plots that looked like piles of matted rubbish, beige and gray, that turned out to be the collapsed rags of dead pads. Some of the taller kaktushes had keeled over and dessicated, leaving behind strange vegetable bones like filigreed staffs.
The Mayor said, "I hafsta ration the water, Frodo."
The hobbit looked up at that. "What does that entail, exactly?"
"If ye wants to wash annerthing in water--yer floor, yer body, yer clothes, what have ye--'twill hafta be the water o' the Nurnen that ye use. That's fer starters."
Frodo stifled argument, but he flinched inside. That did not sound comfortable to the skin, but the alternative concerned him more. "What else?" he asked.
"The potters'll hafta use Nurnen water, too--and that'll buy us trouble wi' the King. The law says that if ye use poisonous materials in the making of a dish, ye needs must label it so, and make naught fer food nor drink nor growin' things. That cuts out most o' our market, right there--just when we'd begun to have one."
Frodo whistled in dismay. Fearing the worst in the next pronouncement, he quickly added, "I've been real careful about how I laid out the planting, Mayor. I've filled in all of the irrigation ditches with gravel around the pipes, to keep as much of the flow from evaporating as possible. And the desert crops don't take much watering."
Aloe sighed, and in a rough-gentle voice she said, "I know, Frodo. Ye've done yer best by us. And I've made the growin' o' food a top priority. I'll allot as much yer way as I can. But all these new flower gardens--these potted plants an' window boxes an' whatnot--they gotta go. I wish I could say otherwise. But I can't."
Frodo winced at the thought of all those gay, growing things perishing, but he nodded. What good would such beauty do if it took so much as a swallow of water away from a thirsty child?
A powerful stench blew their way in a fretful wind. Instead of shying from it, Mayor Aloe turned towards the smell and followed it to the corpse of a warg, its tongue hanging out and bugs buzzing over it. "Died o' thirst, it did," she said. "Already it has started." She turned around and walked away.
Frodo waited till he saw the Mayor's tall, fluttery form, her shoulders slightly bent, disappear down over the edge of the plateau, before he asked, "Sauron, if you truly want me to succeed as you say, please tell me how you answered drought in your time."
The Sea of Nurnen came the soft voice in his head. Once it gave me sweet water, enough to feed all of my empire with the farms it could support. Once you could not buy a greater treasure-trove than that, stretching sapphire-blue as far as the eye could see. But Ulmo, ever my enemy, poisoned it to spite me.
Frodo didn't argue, though he knew full well what had poisoned the waters of the sea--and so would Sauron, if he had bothered to peruse the hobbit's thoughts for something besides hurtful secrets. Instead, standing there in the stench that made the erstwhile Dark Lord seem physically present, Frodo asked, "But what did you do then? For the Nurnen had not run fresh for many years into your rule."
I burned fires night and day, to distill fresh water from foul--but Ulmo only poisoned the waters more.
"And what did you do with the sludge that remained after your distillations?"
Poured it back into the sea, of course. Let the waters carry it away.
"Um hm. And this had nothing to do with the waters growing ever fouler?"
With a sea so vast, only an enemy's hand could have polluted it so. And do you want my opinion or not?
"Oh, I do, I do! What did you do then?"
I gave commands. Many men and orcs, at my bidding, labored to create an aqueduct that stretched all the way from Harad to here, bringing the good water from their mountains down to me. Oh, what a mighty work I undertook, for the betterment of all! But in the final days of my rule, the last surviving Blue Wizard incited the people of Harad to topple the aqueduct and hoard the water for themselves. Thus did he spite all of those laborers who perished in its building. Well, he paid for that and many other follies, and his followers with him, so that the countryside stank of their dying for miles around. Yet I had not the time to repair the damage before your forebears destroyed me. You have them and the wizard to thank for having no recourse now.
"What a pity! I had hoped you would have had something more useful to suggest than to steal water from my neighbors." Frodo walked back towards the village.
I would have provided for the Haradrim, too, had they but trusted me. I did, in fact, for many years. They prospered under me!
"But only if they obeyed you in every single thing that you commanded, no doubt."
Well, naturally. Why should I provide for the common good for free?
That pretty much set the mood for the day. Nettled by Frodo's disdain, Sauron took it upon himself to point out every withering leaf, every drooping stock. He made disgusting comments on the foulness of the water poured out to irrigate the fields, and described the progress insects made, step by step, in drought-stressed shrubs and banks of weeds, to suck the last sap out of them.
Frodo grew so worried about dearth and waste that, without even realizing it, he abstained from the waterskin until his head ached and his stomach cramped and before he knew it he sat down in the dirt, too dizzy to continue. Then one of the men ran up with a slopping cup to hold to his lips, which embarrassed him no end. It also left him with a melancholy feeling to see Cork, not Fishenchips, holding the cup. Nor did it uplift him to hear behind his back (with ears more acute than the men expected) all of the mutterings about how "the poor addled rat don't know his own good, betimes."
At the end of the day, with dragging steps, he checked the traps for rats, and found a gaunt pair hardly worth hauling back for Dragon-Girl. But he tossed the squeakers into the cart and turned Bleys home nonetheless. He released them into her cage, dulled to the spectacle of the little girl pouncing upon them, avid in her appetite, her dress growing more and more stained and her face in a frightful condition, with no mother's hand to wipe it. But Frodo knew better by now than to reach in and try to clean her up. He had stooped to put a few more drops of serum in her water-pail when he heard a voice say, "Thank you."
"What?" He straightened abruptly and looked all around him for the speaker.
"Thank you," said Dragon-Girl, "for dinner." And then she went back to gobbling and rending as though she hadn't spoken the first kindly words that Frodo had ever heard pass from her lips. Her thanks seeped into his dry, cracked soul, cooling the fever of his day, softening the harshness, and at last moistening a seed he didn't know he had in him, that grew inside till it blossomed as a smile..
HERE ENDS VOLUME IV.