For Into Darkness Fell His Star
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 8, Part 149
The Healer's Apprentice
April 15, 1452
Frodo struggled to find his way back into a body so heavy that it took all of his will just to lift his foot and set it down again. It seemed too loose as well, too large for him; he struggled to reach all of the way to the fingertips and toes, and the neck and legs wobbled as though he occupied them imperfectly. Yet his impairment felt luxurious nonetheless, so that he longed to surrender to the languor, let the body flop where it might. But the men wouldn't let him. Deliciously heavy--precious weight... "Am I made of gold, now?" he asked. "No, no, never min'--tha' would be a dragonish thing. We are through wi' dragons, I think. The waters of the starlight ha' seen to that."
"Just keep walking," Bergil said, and dragged him through circle after circle, with Fishenchips tugging him along on the other side.
Frodo giggled, lighthearted or lightheaded, he couldn't tell which. "You sound jus' like Bilbo!" He opened his eyes long enough to catch the look that Bergil gave to Fishenchips, and that started him to giggling again.
Elenaril's voice came to his attention, sweeter than the rest. "It doesn't matter if he babbles. Keep him talking. Nonsense is better than nothing."
Bergil asked him, "How are you feeling, Frodo?"
"Evvvrybody wants to ask me that," Frodo mumbled. "I feel fine--jus' fine. FannnTAStic, in fact."
"Uh huh. You know I never believe you when you say that."
"No, really--this is much much much better--I've got two good hands--see?-- an' no more worms 'r bombs 'r nasty smelly places...Except...ugh, that horridible odor..what is that?"
"That would be you," the man said. "You got sick. And a good thing, too."
Frodo suddenly did not feel quite so golden. He also noticed a bit of a chill, and realized that not only did he have wet hair, but his friends had not wasted time in dressing him after an apparent bath. He laughed to realize just how carefree he felt to dispense with inconsequentials like clothing. And the men kept him walking, round and round and round...
"Elenaril," Fishenchips protested, "Don't clean that up--that's apprentice work."
The woman replied, "I have set my apprentice to do what he can manage better than myself--keeping the patient upright and moving. A true healer does not shy from any labor associated with her art, no matter what her status." And Frodo smelled the pungency of that harsh cleanser that leeches use in Mordor, and a fleeting sense of shame disturbed him. But that passed quickly.
Fishenchips growled, "Why'd ya do it, Frodo? Why'd ya hafta try the poppy gum?"
"I din't. Mattie...Mattie forced the bottle into my mouth. I thought...I thought she was gonna kiss me." He started to sniffle, but then brightened again. "But it'll alllll work out right i' the end? Right? Right? I mean, it's a beautiful day."
Bergil smiled. "I suppose it will be, soon enough. The dawn approaches." But then he said in a grimmer voice, to the others, "I think we have now established that Mattie is a danger to others. The time has come to report her to the authorities."
Fish growled, "Aye--but who'll bear the message?"
"No no no no no!" Frodo became so agitated that he opened his eyes fully, enough to see the stubble on the men's faces and the smudges of weariness beneath their eyes, as they struggled to keep a grip on him when he tried to flail away. "No, you mustn't threaten her in any way, no no, not at all--she would tell the whole world about May!"
Bergil stared at him, and then fell to his knees and clapped a hand over the hobbit's mouth. In a tight voice he commanded, "Out--everybody please leave the room!"
But a gentle hand touched his shoulder as Elenaril said, "We are healers, husband. We have vowed to keep confidences."
Bergil hesitated, then nodded. He dropped his hand, just held the wobbly hobbit before him and asked, in an artificially gentle voice, "Frodo? Is Mattie blackmailing you?"
Frodo nodded. "She knows all about May. She read it in my letters to my father."
The man hesitated. "Your sister? Or the month? Something that happened in the month?" Then he said, "Frodo, you shall have to tell me about May, too. I need to know just how bad this is."
"Oh, well, May's not really my sister." A serenity filled him, a relief at releasing secrets without the weight of caution. "She's the daughter of Buttercup Klaefield an' Ted Sandyman, an', an', he did somethin' bad, Ted did, he made her by hurtin' Buttercup somehow."
Elenaril raised a hand to her mouth. "Oh sweet Valar!"
Frodo went on with an oblivious hint of a smile, pleased with Bergil's kindly regard. "Hobbit law says you have to marry a lady if you get her with child. But Buttercup would go mad if she had to do that. We, we never had anybody like Ted before, oh no, not in the Shire. So we hid the child with our own." Then his face twisted up with fear as he remembered the seriousness of the situation. "No one must know!"
Bergil muttered an orc word, smacking the floor, and said, "This does make a pretty mess of things!" Then he saw Frodo curl up on the floor like a sleeping kitten. "No, no! Back to your feet! No sleep for you--not yet!" He leaped up, yanking Frodo with him, and started walking the hobbit around the room again.
Nearby Elenaril wrung out her washrags; Frodo could hear the tinkling water. It almost reminded him of music, something he'd heard recently...but he grasped at it in vain. The herbwife said, "I believe I might propose a solution."
"I'd like to hear it, Love."
"Everyone knows that Fishenchips yearns to study medicine. No one would think anything of it, now that I have a sturdy man among my apprentices, if I sent him to guard several of my most promising students on their way to Minas Tirith, there to learn with them what they can of the Houses of Healing."
"An excellent proposal! And while there, he can meet with the most discreet among the Guard--I know their names, and will write letters of introduction."
Unexpectedly, Frodo announced, "Eowyn knows."
"You mean the Lady of Ithilien?" Bergil asked.
"Uh huh. She midwifed May's birth."
"Perfect! She has much experience with poppy-fiends, and the apprehension of dangerous patients. Fish, have you got that? Those I send you to must..."
"Borrrrring," Frodo interrupted. "Alla this circling round an' round, same ol' sights--can't hardly keep my eyes open here!"
"Oh dear!" Elenaril spread out washrags on the hearth to dry. "We do need to keep his attention."
"May I make a suggestion?" Bergil asked. "I think we should put Frodo to work at what he loves best. That has always worked well for him in the past."
"No!" Fish protested. "No way! They's a harvestin' the greens out in the field today, and we canna trust the li'l feller with a sickle in his hand!"
"Nay, but he can carry baskets of greens between the harvesters and the cart."
Now his friends wrestled Frodo's limbs into clothing, with about as much difficulty as he had encountered in resuming the occupation of his body. After awhile he did his best to help them along, and they finally managed to get all the proper limbs into the proper places, and to straighten the cloth around him. Elenaril knelt down and combed his hair for him--such loving hands, feeling carefully for tangles and undoing them painlessly. He tipped his head up and kissed her on the scar-rough cheek, which promptly flushed to a rosy hue. Quickly she said, "He cannot help it!"
"I know that," her husband replied, "and I shall take it as a compliment to my taste in brides, just this once.
And so Frodo soon found himself tottering out into the fields between his closest friends. The sunlight smothered him at first in heat and dizziness, so that he reeled and would have fallen if not for his companions, who kept shoving him back onto his feet. But in time he staggered by himself back and forth between the cart and the laborers, bearing basket after basket of turnip leaves and every other kind of sallet, their fresh, green smells enticing him a little more awake with every breath. A beautiful day indeed--the sun shone brightly in the bluest of skies, and gentle breezes riffled through the crops, as birds sang in the hedgerows, and goat-bells rang faintly in the distance.
He stared into his basket of greens, the leaves crisscrossing each other, veins flowing from the stems like runes woven into elvish art, with leaf-edged ruffles and insect-holes for diacritical marks. If he gazed long enough, he felt, he could read the runes and learn all the secrets of the harvest there, the hidden lore of Yavanna, long concealed for just the right time, for the coming of a great hobbit prophet of the gardening arts...
"Keep moving, sir," Bergil reminded him, and it became just a basket of turnip-greens again. He dumped it into the cart and went on back for more.
After awhile, he noticed how the men guffawed and hooted at his unsteady progress, weaving this way and that; the sound had always been there, but it finally registered. It occurred to him just how much this might have embarrassed him if he hadn't felt so gloriously drunk. But that thought soon gave way to an inspiration, that since he had their attention, and since he suddenly realized what a beautiful voice he had, he might as well give the men some entertainment for their trouble. So he threw back his head and belted out, at the top of his lungs,
"Oh life would be jolly
With my own little dolly,
Though some call it folleeeeee
I'll make glad with my Mollie!"
The crowd roared and he bowed, then caught himself by the wheel of the cart to keep from falling.
"In springtide or summer,
I'll...something or other...
Something...be our own drummmmmmer...
Ah...I forget the lyrics...Papa always pulled me out of the pub afore I could hear the whole song." He grinned back at all the laughing men, now pounding each other on the back.
"'Tain't his fault!" Fish snapped, throwing his own sickle down. "'Twas that wicked sow, Mattie as did this to 'im, forcin' the tincture down his throat--and if I ever get my hands wrapped around her throat, she won't do nothin' so rotten ever again!"
"Fishenchips!" Elenaril cried, and Frodo opened his eyes at the sound of a loud smack! to see a white handprint on Fish's bright red face. Meanwhile, all around them men muttered, "She? Her?"
None of them had ever heard so much fury in the herbwife's voice. "A healer must never ever reveal the medical secrets of another--not your worst enemy!" Her teeth showed in her scowl as her hands knotted into fists. But then she straightened and pronounced, "Fishenchips, I banish you from the hospital for one full month."
"Now just wait one..."
"I have spoken my judgment upon you--do not make it worse by arguing."
"But what about studyin' in Minas Tirith?"
"Do not flatter yourself!"
"But the work, the hospital..."
"I would rather break my back building the hospital with my own two hands, making a thousand errors in my blindness, than train a leech who has not learned to guard his tongue." And with that she turned to walk away.
But she paused midstep from leaving. Fishenchips had gripped at his own thick curls, fallen to his knees and howled. Everyone froze at the anguish, an inchoate roar like a lion flayed alive. The stones of the distant village rang with it, and people came out of doors or peered from windows to hear it, until at last the former sailor shuddered into sobs, his forearms on his thighs and his broad back hunched, shaking with his grief.
Elenaril did not turn around, but moved to pity, assured him, "The very fact that I could come up with no worse punishment than this says much for you--and is the only reason I will someday let you return at all. You have a sacred calling, Fishenchips--all the more reason to treat it with respect. If the very orc who tore you from your mother's arms were to crawl up to you and beg for healing of a wound, you would have to do it. And if you learned that he came by the wound in some embarrassing manner, still you could not whisper it to a soul, though everything in you longed to humiliate your assailant."
She turned then, stepped back towards him, and reached out, enough to brush his brow and find the cheeks, and wipe some tears away. He gazed up at her with cold, red eyes. "As a mercy I shall leave you with one patient--your onetime master, Frodo Gardner. Care for him well, and serve him as you did before. I shall withdraw with my husband to the hospital, and not see you again for thirty days." And with that she turned again, departing swiftly, her cane rapping smartly ahead of her.
When the two returned to the tower-house, Fishenchips finally let Frodo rest, but pulled up a stool and sat beside him, watching the hobbit breathe. Frodo lay there on his cot, glad indeed to finally recline, but he kept his eyes open long enough to note the hazel-like wands outside of his window. All of the buds and blossoms had fallen off, and the branches drooped, shivering with shame at every breeze.