For Into Darkness Fell His Star
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 9, Part 150
Days of Drought
April 16, 1452--I'm sorry I didn't write yesterday. I was ill. Well, no, I wasn't exactly ill. Mattie poisoned me. She snuck into my room at night, crept right up to my bed, and forced a bottle of tincture of poppy into my mouth before I could open my eyes. Well, all right, I knew she was there. But I thought she had something else in mind. All right, so that would have been wrong, too! I admit as much--are you satisfied? You should either find me a wife like the Easterners do--and be quick about it--or lock me up in a tower where I never see so much as a female rat, because I am an absolute, unmitigated idiot where the ladies are concerned!
What was it like, you wonder? I don't want to think about it. I can't stop thinking about it. Wonderful, it was, and horrible. I saw marvels and I saw lies and they both darn near killed me. I mean it. She made a mistake. She gave me so much that I nearly stopped breathing for good. Papa, I didn't want to breathe. My friends made me. Your friends, too. I can't explain. Mattie violated me. She didn't just near kill me, she tore at something clean and sacred inside me, she befouled and damaged me. I feel weak and dismal, body, mind and soul. I hate her!
It wasn't all lies. I learned some things about what makes Sauron tick, things he didn't want me to know, things he won't admit to himself. I can't explain that, either, except that his plot to get Mattie to do this to me backfired. I know that he honestly believes that he loves me--but he doesn't. He sincerely believes that he has acted throughout for the greater good, but he hasn't the foggiest idea what goodness is anymore. Imagine somebody spreading a feast of rotten meats and vegetables, so long cut off from life that they can only revolt, and he demands to know why you aren't grateful, he has followed only the most sublime of recipes, why don't you relish everything he offers?
But no, it wasn't that simple, after all. I will admit to you, Papa, that I encountered beauty--beyond description--and freedom from all pain, all want. I didn't want to wake up. I am so very, very ashamed, but I wanted it to go on forever, and if I hadn't received a glimpse of the lies behind the beauty, vouchsafed for me by higher powers than Sauron, I would have oh, I don't want to tell you! I would have spent good money on more poppy gum! There. I said it. If I had lived, I would have. I almost fell for the lies. I almost drowned in them, literally, died of them.
No, it wasn't just seeing the lies--I have to be honest with you of all people. I saw through them and I still wanted more, wanted to add lies of my own, all the way to the grave. What made the difference was realizing what would happen to Mordor if I gave in. Papa, I love this land, this people, so deeply that the frost can't touch the roots of my love. Maybe that sounds crazy, but it's true--it's the truest thing in my whole life right now. It's what I have to cling to.
So here I am, today. Time to harvest the radishes. And it is so bleak. Everything has turned gray. Literally. I cannot see color. At all. Fishenchips says that's because the colors in a poppy-vision are so blinding that the real world in contrast doesn't look like it has any hues at all. He told me that this will pass, and so will the depression, once my body sorts itself out again. The colors should come back by tomorrow. The depression--well, it would lift in a day or two for a person of sound mind, he said. Meaning he doesn't expect it to lift immediately for me.
But I know he's wrong, Papa. I know because I have seen the light of Valinor, and I remember that after its glow even the commonest objects of my everyday life looked better, not worse. If I hadn't seen that I could easily have believed that real life cannot compare to the visions of the poppy. But the truest, prime beauty can only enhance, never lessen anything, only cast its radiance on all with a generous hand. This bleakness, more than anything else, convinces me of the lying nature of the poppy gum.
Poor Mattie! If I find return so rough after just one night, what must it have been like for her, after years enthralled, to attempt to return to life, only to please me? But no, how foolish to foster sympathy to one who nearly killed me, even to my soul! I have quite run out of pity for Matthilda Heathertoes Greenbanks--let her rot in her delusions, and see if I care!
I don't know what I feel. I have just returned from an enchantment where few if any of my feelings were my own. Maybe I'm not quite clear of it yet. Certainly I have not gone "back to normal", whatever that might mean for me anymore. Maybe I don't have a normal.
Well, I brought home the radishes. The greens have wilted a bit, but the sharp flavor should make for a change of pace. If I could taste anything besides their acridness. Fishenchips promises I will tomorrow. He tries his best to smile and encourage me, but I know the devastation behind his painful grins.
Did I mention that Elenaril has banished him from the hospital for a month, because in his anger he publicly blurted out the secret that Mattie is female? But Elenaril will permit him to take care of me. Don't ask me to explain it--why should the herbwife care what he said about that wretch? Because whatever bad men might do to Mattie for the knowing of her gender, it cannot differ far from what she has done to me. She has poisoned beauty for me, poisoned peace, poisoned light hearts and freedom from pain. She has forced disgrace into me, more damaging than the thrust of a sword.
But I will be the stronger one. I am the stronger one. I am the one who came back. And yes, I needed all the help I could get, but I got it, I accepted it, for the love of Mordor I did. That has to count for something.
I just got back from tending Dragon-Girl. Do you know she burst into tears at the sight of me! It seems that the others had told her that I couldn't see her yesterday, on account of illness. And she picked up from them, unspoken, the real peril of that illness, as children will. She feared for me so! Do you have any idea how much progress that means?
She even offered to eat a radish to please me. I warned her it wasn't exactly the friendliest of vegetables to start with, but she ate one, to prove to me and herself that she could devour something besides fresh meat, though her eyes watered and she made such a face that she actually made me laugh! And then she laughed, too, and joked about breathing fire like a real dragon. Which shows me that she knows she is not a dragon. And also shows that she has regained the grace of humor.
We both laughed. We are going to be all right.
April 17, 1452--Fishenchips got reeling drunk last night, which I suppose was to be expected, the minute he saw me past danger. It scared the living daylights out of me, though, for the sun had sunk before he made it home. Fortunately Lanethil escorted him in, and Lanethil fears nothing in the night. The elf seemed all warmed up and rosy, himself, no doubt from matching drinks with Fish for keeping him company, but it takes much to impact an elf to any real degree. Even so, he sang sad songs for us, which strangely comforted us both, Fish and myself, in our separate struggles. Lanethil spent the night, and we were glad to share a roof with him. The day shines brighter today for having had his presence among us. Even Fishenchips feels it, though he moves carefully and brews his green remedy with a shaking hand.
And yes, I do see colors again. But I still feel dreary. And worried. With Bergil withdrawn to the hospital with his wife, I do not know what he might say or do about Mattie. Papa, he must not breathe a word of this to the King--little May hangs in the balance! Oh horrible, horrible poppy, that so perilously loosened my tongue!
Hazel looks completely leafless and lifeless today. Just like she looked when we first met, so long ago by the pool of healing mud. I tried to tell her that what happened wasn't her fault, that Mattie believed herself to mean me no harm--how could Hazel have told the difference? But I couldn't get so much as a quiver of response.
April 18,1452--Oh Papa, something horrible has happened! It has taken me this long to confirm it, to get the last of that poison out of my system. I have lost my elvish sight! I see no further than I used to, now, and in the dark everything blends back into shadow, dim and colorless. Somehow, some choice I made while still ensorceled, has cost me the gift I had from May's magnifying glass.
And yet I take hope in this. When I look through the glass directly, I can still see colors in the dark, and the glow of living things. So perhaps I can get it all back, if I show a willing heart.
April 19, 1452--Dreadful day. I confess to you, my dear father, that I did not go to work at all. I saw this morning that Hazel has gone again and then a blackness came over me. I withdrew into the desert. I used the lore that Elenaril had taught me. I found a corner where the white poppy grew wild, drought-withered petals drooping from the swollen pods. And I spent the entire day contemplating them. I know how to incise the pods and squeeze out the gum. I know. And something nagged me, some forgotten message--to you, I believe--that apparently I had picked up during the dream. I felt convinced that the only way I could reclaim it was to go back into the dream, and that I had a duty to do so. I did not, but I wanted to, so bad. Papa, please release me from that duty!
I'll write more later. My head feels crammed so full of thoughts that I can hardly prize any out separate from the general tangle. After supper I'll continue this letter, I think, see if that helps to decongest my brain. Or something. Good bye, for now.
Oh Papa--what follies Sauron leads me to! But no, I did what I did of my own volition--nobody made me do it. But I had to find out, Papa--I had to! Fishenchips has just now unbound my hands to let me write, as I say it is good for me, and he believes me, but he will not let me out of his sight. I cannot blame him. Oh, what a fool I have become!
I thought I was alone. Nobody would know. I pushed the left leg of my breeches up above the knee, where no one ever sees. I took a knife. I had to do it--I had to prove to myself that I could still face pain, that I had not lost my soul to the poppy along with the elvish sight. The first cut was barely a scratch; I hardly felt it at all. It didn't count, really, a little beading up of blood--that did not reassure me enough. I had to test myself deeper than that. The second cut stung--but how did I know if that small pain proved anything? What if I faced greater trials ahead--as surely I must--and I let them drive me back into oblivion? So I steeled myself for a third cut, but just then Fishenchips walked into the room, saw the blood, and wrestled the knife from my hand. So he left me tied up while he scoured the wounds, roughly enough that I had my fill of tests (I had forgotten completely about the contagions loose in Mordor these days) and now I feel quite exhausted, body and soul.
I have no privacy now, no more than Gimli allowed to Legolas. I am so ashamed! Fishenchips has brought his cot up into my room and will spend the night with me, and tomorrow the whole day. After that, who knows? I do not know how to prove to him that already the madness of this past hour appalls me, that I have no intention of ever trying such a stunt again.
April 20, 1452--Even more dreadful day. Sauron's feeling scorned. Gee, I wonder why? Anyway, he threw one hissy fit after another, which unfortunately meant that I threw fits for real. Which means at least four or five deaths somewhere in Seaside. I feel so exhausted I can hardly hold this pen. Fishenchips will not leave my side. This tea he made does seem to help, though, at least I like to belie~~~~~~~
Sorry about the tea spattered on the page. I think it only blurred some of the decoration in the margins. It happened again. Someone else has died. Sauron is so hurt, so angry, so vindictive, that I don't think he cares if he wipes out all of his local resources in a single day.
I can ride him out, though, I think. I have the advantage, in that I still live. Fully, I mean, with a body and everything. He hasn't the strength to kill me, not unless I weaken myself. And this storm of tantrums means that he will lose the power to trouble me for quite some time, I think. But at what cost?
April 21, 1452--Today they harvested another field of mustard, seeds first and then the greens, without me. Fishenchips insisted that I take at least one day to rest from the violence done to me yesterday, and I felt weary enough to agree with him. I had two more seizures last night after I wrote to you, my head crackling with storms and my eyes all full of sparks. But now peace has settled upon me, and I feel content to lie abed, gathering my strength, knowing at least that Sauron cannot do likewise. I don't perceive him anywhere. I'll take my blessings where I find them.
The Mayor recalls now words she did not believe before that I told her about my relationship with Sauron. She came over with the Herbwife of Bristlescrub in tow (very official in her visit, not acknowledging Fishenchip's woebegone presence in any way) but Aloe did all the talking, to demand that I make peace with my demon for the good of the community. I suppose my laughter only enhanced my reputation for madness, but what else could I do? Does she have any idea what she asked of me? Yes, there had been deaths, and Aloe took offense that I should find any humor in the situation. I don't even know why I laughed. But Sauron overplayed his hand, wiping Seaside clean of poppy-fiends, none of whom had time to pass their vices on. His spirit must rove far, now, weak and ragged, to rebuild what he himself destroyed. Can I help it if I find that funny?
Still, seven have died, and one has suffered such damage that he might never walk or talk again. Is one small gardener worth it? Better I should have ridden Billie Lass to the Halls of Mandos before any of this happened!
Where did that thought come from? I have some vague recollection, now, of the poppy-dream, of almost riding to the Halls of Death, but Billie-Lass would not bear me--because Námo wouldn't have me? I came so close to dying that day--everybody tells me so. Yet I have returned alive, and unmaimed as well, not like that poor devil who'll need the care of an infant for the rest of his short life. Then, like it or not, I am supposed to live, and I must make the best of it.
I gathered from these women, in their asides to each other, that Bergil has gone on a journey. Neither would elaborate, though. Is he my servant or not? But I did not press the point. I can hardly play the master when I struggle so hard to master myself. I just feel low and down and unfit; everything goes on around me without my power to influence any of it. What am I even doing here?
Me again, after dinner. Something important happened to give me new encouragement, right when I needed it the most. It did not seem all that encouraging to begin with, I'll admit--some of it, indeed, shocked me so badly that I hesitate to confide it to you. But you are my elder, and wise, and shall judge for yourself.
I had badgered Fishenchips into letting me up to feed Dragon-Girl. I brought her a dish of mustard-greens and sausage (we still enjoy a bit of good fare left over from the wedding-presents here in Seaside) because I want to encourage her in her newfound taste for normal food.
She got to reminiscing as we ate, out there in the barn with her (me on the other side of the cage--we must take things slowly.) She remembers her mother now, her mother bringing her and her brother food, with a smile much like mine--meat, after so many days without so much as a stale crust that the family had turned into creatures of bone and yellow skin. They grew strong then, under her mother's care, while others in the village died. But one day the food ran out again. Dragon-Girl and her brother turned to the source of meat, and just like that, without thinking, they attacked. She remembers her brother sharing with her half of the heart, raw and juicy and still comfortingly warm, and they laughed together for the sheer pleasure of the good food and the hunt. I could only listen to this damaged child in horror, the very matter-of-factness of her words appalling me more than anything.
But then suddenly she turned to me with huge green eyes and cried out, "But my brother! Where is my brother? Whatever happened to my brother?" And then she burst into tears. At that point I threw all sense to the winds and went into her cage, and I held her sobbing in my arms, for we both knew the answer to that question. And I knew, by my faith in all that is holy, that she could not harm me so long as she grieved.
Fishenchips gasped, of course; I thought for sure he would stop me. But he has a healer's instincts, give him that. He knew to hold back. He will make a fine healer, once he rides out his exile.
April 22, 1452--Back to work. Doing battle with the weeds--tough, rangy things, hard to kill. Fishenchips hovered about, making sure that I used sharp objects only on the weeds. A blessed nuisance, that is what he is. I sent a mess of them to Elenaril, those that had properties of interest to her. The rest we fed to the goats, with forage so dry and spare these days. At least we can put to use all of that juiciness which the weeds have robbed from our irrigation! Anyway, the goats seemed pleased by the change of fare. While I toiled I watched storm clouds build up, shading me from the sun, and hope moved in me. I watched those clouds sail on to spill all of their rain upon the toxic sea. Malice yet lingers in this accursed land.
April 23, 1452--All of the window-box flowers have wilted throughout Seaside. I saw this as I took Dragon-Girl out for exercise on a leash. I must take this precaution, as she lunges and snaps at others, yet she has made no move to harm me in any way since her flood of tears a couple days ago, and will even curl up harmlessly in my lap when I go in to visit her. Fishenchips warns me of my folly every time, of course. But something has shifted in her. The flowers may have wilted indeed, but something else blooms, and that perfume lightens my heart in hard times.
April 24, 1452--I haven't much to say today. I finally have convinced Fishenchips that he may safely leave me alone, so right now I am enjoying a bit of solitude--after a fashion. I'm still in his distant line of sight. I'm writing this as I sit on the bottom of my empty pond, wishing I had thought to dig it sooner. And now that I am here, I find I have nothing else to write, except that I am here. I wish I were somewhere else, but to fantasize frightens me, fearing that it might lead back to Sauron's dream. He has poisoned the very concept of escape for me, yet my heart wearies for lack of rest.
Now I have something to say. Bergil has just returned, half-dead and covered with bumps from bee-stings, but grinning withal, and tugging behind him a cart filled with an enormous hive inside the lattice-like stump of an old, dead kaktush. Good, golden bees, not the red-spotted black kind with the venomous honey. A brave deed, gladly received by us all!
April 25, 1452--Do you know how we get dry spells sometimes in the Shire, and everything gets all staticky, and hair practically stands on end when you brush it, and folded clothing crackles when you pull it open? Well, we get it ten times more here. And shocks! I have never had so many shocks. Mordor makes more things out of metal than any land except the kingdoms of the dwarves--and dwarvish caverns tend to hold a certain moisture in the air, so it's not so bad, there. But this--I fear to touch anything for fear of it sparking me again. Even so, at night it gets kind of interesting. As I smooth my blankets around me blue flashes sparkle from my hands, like my own tiny thunderstorms, brilliant in the dark. Sometimes I pretend that I wave my hands in magic, to draw the greater storms to us.
Yes, I have decided to dare fantasy again, and I feel so relieved! It is mine, not his, not Sauron's I mean. Our fantasies each point to our desires, which become our goals, but he and I do not desire the same thing. I have no wish for an existence free of pain--I hanker for the satisfactions of achievement, after toils well-done.
April 26, 1452--Dry winds have played havoc with the buckwheat. Most have dropped their seed-heads--this close to the harvest, too! I would have swept up what we could, but then remembered that the sprouts can make you ill, so presumably the green grain would do the same.
On the other hand, the wry-grass seems to hold up well. Elenaril calls it darn near unkillable; I shall have to save out the largest ears and see if I can breed a more generous crop from them. Even with the miserly version we have, though, we should have enough for all--men and elf and hobbit and chickens, and fodder for the goats.
April 27, 1452--Lanethil has taken over the smithy. Mayor Aloe has made Harding the full-time Captain of the Guard. If her affectionate way of pinning his badge to his chest occasioned smiles, and their kiss a general whoop, she showed no signs of caring. For my part, it felt good to have something to smile about.
I took Dragon-Girl to the ceremonies. She did not strain at her leash, but behaved for the most part like a little lady, only snarling and snapping when a child threw rocks at her. The child's mother looked on with an evil smile and did nothing to stop this from happening. No one has forgotten the terror of Dragon-Girl's murdering-days. I wonder how much she understands of people's resentment of her.
April 28, 1452--We all have sores, now. Bathing in the waters of the Nurnen does not benefit the skin. Mine are not as bad as most; I guess my hobbit blood protects me.
April 29, 1452--Nothing now remains of the once-gay flowers about the town except dry straw. Even that won't last much longer, for the goats eat it, having nothing better.
April 30, 1452--We have harvested the last of the turnip-greens before they wither completely. Also the buckwheat, what's left of it--yet still more than I feared, which has put some heart into me. The last of the wedding-present food has run out, finally, but we have a shipment due in on the fifth of May, so we shouldn't see much hardship.
I should tell you that Fishenchips and I now allow Dragon-Girl the run of the house, so long as one or the other of us keeps an eye upon her. And we let her sleep in the guest room, no more need for the cage in the barn, having asked Lanethil to install a bar on the bedroom' s door. She eats her one allotted rat a day outside upon a leash, for she makes a mess of it, but other than that she mainly lives off normal food. Her eyes have turned a turquoise color, now, and her pupils have gotten so close to normal that you have to look for the difference. She is more afraid of Fishenchips than affectionate towards him, for he has used force more than once to restrain her from mischief, but though he brooks no nonsense he actually treats her gently.
May 1, 1452--Happy anniversary! I suppose you know, but won't mind me telling you anyway, that I have always hoped someday for a marriage as good as yours. Thank you. Thank you, Mama and Papa, for showing me how a marriage should be, how caring, how mutually supportive, even how to fight without savaging each other as some couples do out here. They have no marriages in Mordor, but people still pair off, and stay together sometimes for years at a time. They cannot rely on each other through times of hardship, though; that makes all the difference. They don't know any better; they have no idea of the rewards of sticking the hard times out. Thank you, Mama and Papa, for showing me the richness of those rewards, time and time again!
Yet some do stick together, supporting each other through everything, with nobody to teach them anything about it. Lanethil smiled when I mentioned it to him, and he said that the thumbprint of Illuvatar remains upon us all, there from our earliest shaping--you never know when you might discover it, swirling through the unlikeliest candidates. Something in his smile spoke of memories and secrets; he said no more to me after that.
The lettuce has bolted. It has grown so bitter and tough that only the goats will have it. Our loss, their gain; when we let them into the patch they pushed and jostled like children rushing into the sitting room for their Yuletide gifts. Watching their delight made the loss of the crop almost worth it!
The women and children labored as hard as the men today, thrashing the buckwheat. It has remarkably tough hulls, but what can one expect in a land like this? I won't begrudge any creature here her armor, even when it causes me a bit of trouble. I thrashed alongside the women, for the record, considering it part of my contract to know all that there is about food-growing in Mordor, and I found myself hard-worked indeed.
The women smiled on me for that, Crookyteeth especially. She may be a wanton, Papa, but she is good-hearted for her kind. Do I do wrong to sometimes cook her a special something now and then, and bring it over, and share in some kisses and hugs while I'm there? Just a few kisses and hugs, mostly innocent. Is there much harm in that? At least Fishenchips sees none; he drops me off and leaves me privacy when I'm there, trusting Crookyteeth to look after me, I suppose. At least I feel much better when I see her!
May 2, 1452--The buckwheat tastes surprisingly tasty--rich and nutty and sweet, unlike any grain I am familiar with. I suppose it is not actually a grain at all, coming from a bush rather than a grass. But still, our first corn-harvest! We must eat it all within the month, putting none aside, for it keeps poorly in these parts.
And so today, the first grinding, has become something of a buckwheat feast, complete with honey to sweeten our harvest into cakes. I swear that no honey on earth compares to those that bees derive from the blossoms of the buckwheat! Anyway, with honey and buckwheat flour we had the making for some fine cakes indeed! Even Dragon-Girl praised them, and left no room for her daily rat. It did my heart good to see her full and satisfied on something so benign. And I made sure that darling Crookyteeth had her fill, as well. She giggles and gets silly when she eats more than she'd been used to, almost tipsy on food, and her crumb-sweet kisses lighten my heart. Do not think ill of me, Papa, for finding what comforts I may.
I look forward, now, to working harder than ever in the farms. We must have more feasts!
May 3, 1452--As we have perforce left the turnips no leaves, and we would rather not expend the water for them to make more, what with other crops coming up and all, we have pulled up many of the turnips themselves and found them generous enough. You know that I have always preferred 'taters to turnips, but I have forgotten how sweet they can taste when you're hungry for a new flavor. Don't worry--we have left enough to keep on growing into winter, and to seed the next crop.
May 4, 1452--Today we harvested spinach. Kind of dry and withery from the winds that blow here, and what little brackish water we could afford it, but that doesn't matter in the stew-pot, really. Every time that we manage more variety in our meals, I feel like I've accomplished something.
I had a good day today. I was actually happy! Not euphoric, as in Sauron's dream, nor ecstatic as in a vision of Valinor. But good old-fashioned hobbit-happy, pleased that we have managed to harvest enough spinach to make a difference, to put nourishing food on the table, spinach folded in with melted cheese and thick slices of turnip, within a crust of buckwheat flour. Pleased with starting at one end of a field and working my way to the other, seeing the job done and glad that my body could thrive on the exertion.
Sauron cannot appreciate the joy of well-earned sweat, trickling down one's neck and cooling the body in a sudden, welcome breeze. I don't think that even when he had a body he ever risked sweating very much. I can feel a faint whine of disgust, but he hasn't got the strength for more. I must say it relieves me to take a break from his filthy chatter. I sleep soundly at night, and think clearly by day.
I know this cannot last. Something will have to be done. But for right now, I am content.