For Into Darkness Fell His Star
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 10, Part 151
Visitors from Afar
May 5, 1452
ships again?" the cry went up at the harbor. "That's twice in a row!"
But yes, indeed, two ships rode into Seaside over the sparkling
waves--not so huge as the last time, but an unexpected generosity all
the same. The wind belled out black sails on one, golden-yellow on the
other, and they swayed to the dip and swell of the Nurnen Sea like a
pair of dancers, as on shore the children clapped and cheered, while
their elders clasped each other's shoulders and spoke in excited voices.
Fishenchips said, "I think ye'd better take a look at this, li'l buddy. Want me to hoist ye up on m'shoulders?"
"That's all right," Frodo said wistfully. "My eyesight is not what it was."
"Then maybe ya can't see what I can make out by meself?" said the far-sighted former sailor, shading his gaze with his hand.
"And what might that be?"
"That one o' they's ships carries passengers yer size."
"Hobbits?" Frodo cried.
Fishenchips grinned, the salt air ruffling his curls. "They's hobbits, or I'm a duck."
Soon Frodo could see it for himself; the crew of both ships were
plainly men of Mordor, but one ship swarmed with little folk. The ships
tacked back and forth in zigzags to make the best of the wind,
crisscrossing each other's paths and showing first one side, then the
other, to the people on the shore. Soon they came close enough for
Frodo to make out individual features: some hobbits looked a bit green
in the face, others wide-eyed and scared, but all of them did their
best to straighten their weskits and stand a little taller for the
approaching dock. Each one of them wore a yellow feather in their
bright green caps, and a matching quiver of arrows fletched in yellow
and green, which marked them as volunteers for the hobbitry-at-arms. On
the other ship guardsmen stood, quieter veterans of war, in the black
and silver livery of Gondor. But both the Big soldiers and the Little
showed in every stance and gesture their determination to guard the
cargos in their charge.
Fishenchips laughed to see this. "Ol' Lord Lossarnach must've gotten
the word through--we'll get the entire shipment fer a change!" He
wagged a finger at his smaller friend. "But don't go givin' half yer
share to Crookyteeth, now. 'Taint doin' her no favor if ye plump her up
too much; human women ain't like hobbits, y'know."
Nearby Crookyteeth cast down her eyes, her round cheeks blushing. "I
think she's lovely," Frodo sighed. And she grinned to hear him, with a
chipmunk smile. "I think she grows more beautiful every day." And he
took her hand, and kissed it.
Bergil said, "It appears that we shall receive still more than the
generosity of the King--the hobbits appear to guard a hold full of
crates and barrels in the measures of the Shirefolk."
Frodo smiled up at Crookyteeth. "It looks like I might be able to cook
you a proper lunch for a change--with only the best of ingredients."
Then he gazed out over the waters, his face serious once more. "Thank
you, Papa, for remembering your son in this hungry land!"
Bergil leaned over and whispered, "Uh, Fishenchips...just how often does Master Frodo visit Crookyteeth, anyway?"
"Just at noon breaks. Once in awhile, after he's had a bad night, he'll
allow himself a long morning-break with her fer what his folks'd call a
'second breakfast,' too." Frodo pretended not to hear Fish's louder
attempt at a whisper. "But I don't knock it--she's finally gotten the
little feller to put some proper meat on those poor bones of his,
though he could still use more. He needs a bit o' cushion against what
th'Dark Lord does to'im, and that he don't quite have just yet. Before,
uh, before your wife..." And Fishenchips faltered, glancing over at the
straight-backed blind woman in her undyed finery, some yards away at
the Mayor's side, showing no awareness of Fishenchip's presence.
"Before Elenaril banished you, she taught you something of Periannath physiology, I take it."
"Um...yes sir. An' they's best a bit on the stocky side, and he ain't there."
Bergil glanced at Frodo, plainly aware that the hobbit had caught every
word, and spoke in a normal voice. "If it affords you any comfort,
Frodo has always run a bit slimmer than your average perian. But it
looks as though the cure sails right into the open arms of Seaside as
we speak." He rubbed his own lean belly. "We might all have our work
cut out for us to see that none of that bounty goes to waste."
"I think I'm up to th'challenge," Fishenchips declared with a hungry
gleam in his eye. "That's the kind o' work I'd like t'try me hand at
fer a change."
Crookyteeth giggled, coloring again, swinging Frodo's hand playfully.
"Will that mean ye'll drop by fer 'second breakfast' more often, then?"
"Breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner, and supper, as the days grow longer."
"Coo, but when'll I get me own work done?" Crookyteeth laughed, even as
Fishenchips said, "Now don't get carried away there, li'l buddy," but
then he licked his lips and gazed out at the ships again.
"Ah, but it's just like Bergil says--it's our responsibility to make
the best use of worthy vittles, out of respect for the labors of my
people. And heaven knows everybody in Seaside could use a bit of a
holiday--so let holiday be our labor, and let all save the tending of
animals wait while the ship remains in our harbor."
Fishenchips nodded. "Aye. 'Tis our duty, plain and simple. 'Tis, uh, 'tis a sort of 'mergency sitiation."
"Bravely into the fray," Bergil declared, striding towards the docking
ships with an eager step. Wood bumped against wood and sailors called
out to each other, shipping their oars, casting out ropes, and furling
Fish turned his eyes back to the first ship. "Now how d'ye figure that?
One o' them hobbits wears the King's livery, same as the men on t'other
"What?" both Frodo and Bergil cried at once.
No sooner had the hobbit-bearing ship docked than the very first
passenger on the gangplank confirmed their wildest hopes. Bergil outran
Frodo with his longer legs, crying, “Pippin? Oh my heavens PIPPIN! How are you?"
“Is that...that can’t be Bergil! What, all grown up?" And now the
littlest knight of Gondor ran as well, down to the dock his arms
Bergil grabbed up the hobbit--mail, helm, and all--and swung him
through the air, his black surcoat whipping like a banner through the
Pippin laughed and cried, "Down! Down! I am not a kite to be flown in
the wind! Have at least a little respect for your elder."
"If you were in fact a kite you would not fly far," Bergil responded
with a chuckle as he set the hobbit onto his feet again. "And how many
rings have the armorers added to your mail since last we met?”
"Need I remind you that I am now The Took? That office requires a
certain portly profile if I am to be taken seriously.” Pippin drew
himself up importantly as he stroked his paunch, but his eyes twinkled
“And what excuse would you have used if born to a lesser house? Oh
Pippin, it is so good to see you! The years between our meetings have
dealt harshly with me, and I have missed your laughter.”
Sorrow now tinged The Took's smile as he clasped the man's hand. "I can
tell by the lines on your face that you have had your share of cares,
old friend. But tonight we shall talk long and late, and we shall make
merry!" Then quickly he turned from Bergil. "But Frodo! How are you,
dear lad?" Pippin embraced the near-grown youngster that he'd known
since birth, and Frodo suddenly found himself trembling with emotion.
"We have heard such frightening reports, Frodo--your parents have been
besides themselves with worry for you."
"Oh, I'm all...I'm..." But before he could get out the words, I'm all right, he burst into tears. Uncle Pippin just held him and patted him on the back.
"Well now, well now, it'll all turn for the better soon. Don't you worry."
"Oh Uncle Pippin! I am, am, am so glad to see you!" Frodo managed to
stutter, though he wept no less. "D'do you know, your jacket still
smells like the Shire, after all your travels. Really, I can smell the,
the new-mown hay. You must have cut the first spring grass be-before
you set out." Frodo laughed through his tears, and then cried harder
onto his "Uncle's" shoulder. Yet of all his complex feelings,
refreshment predominated: a hug from home felt like quaffing ice-cold
water after a hard crawl through the desert.
Pippin waited till Frodo's sobs subsided, then held him by the
shoulders, and in a quiet voice asked, "Do you want to go home? I can
take you back with me, if you want. I mean it. I have authorization
from the King himself to relieve you of duty, if you but say the word."
For an instant hope lit up in Frodo, and memories surged through him,
bright and demanding. The Shire would be at its most beautiful this
time of year, with the orchards all in bloom, and the hillsides soft
and green, sparkling with rain. Every hole would have its garden out in
front, bursting with all colors, and the bird-baths would flutter with
wings and song. Folks would throw open their shutters every morning to
capture the springtime perfume, and one could stroll without a care at
fall of night, taking in the stars. But then he glanced over at
Crookyteeth, the sudden sorrow and resignation in her face, and a
different memory troubled him, of the days when he could compare her to
a ladder in a skirt.
He shook his head. "I can't, Uncle Pippin. Mordor needs me. We've lost
some crops already to hard weather, and the Nurnings need to learn how
to manage in such times. I've got a few tricks left, I think, so I've
got to see them through, if I can."
Pippin gave him a questioning look, then smiled a little too brightly,
and clapped him on the arm, "That's your father's son speaking! Now
come along with me, I have a gift from your mother to show you."
"Sure. Right this way." In a lower voice he said, "Sam read to her all about your pact with Sauron, you know."
"My...you mean about the brandy?" he whispered, blushing. "But that was entirely his idea."
"Right. But to quote dear Rose, 'Dark Lords don't do their thinking in
the kitchen'." Pippin pried open a crate with his sword (while Bergil
winced at this abuse of the weapon) dug through the excelsior stuffing,
and pulled out a cookie-jar. "Brandy-flavored cookies! She says that
four cookies should contain a cup of brandy between them--Sauron never
said you couldn't cook the brandy, now did he?"
Frodo stared a minute, and then burst out laughing for joy. "Mama is a genius! Why didn't I think of that?"
"You have your area of expertise, Mistress Rose has hers. She has
packed up more jars for you, canned air-tight--enough to give you four
cookies a day until the next shipment."
"Then, since Sauron has worn himself out for awhile, and I don't need
them immediately, I can share these. Crookyteeth, my darling, would you
like to sample my mother's skill?"
"Coo, but I would!" Eagerly she bit in, and then rolled her eyes, giggling. "Ohhhh, I have not known what flavor was
afore I met ye, Frodo dear!" Her enthusiasm for his offerings could
always conjure up a smile from the weary hobbit, and for that he
blessed her, warming at the sight as she gladly took a second, directly
from his upraised hand to her lips, his other arm about her generous
"Um...I see..." Pippin said at his side, and coughed. Frodo suddenly
felt his face heat up, as quickly he let go. "I see you've grown your
hair out," the older hobbit gracefully changed the subject, flipping at
the curls about Frodo's shoulders. "And why not? I did likewise when I
traveled among men."
"You might not believe this, but I've already cut it twice since I left
the Shire. It has grown faster ever since I visited the ents."
"Now that is a curious thing," Pippin remarked, "For I had not found it
so after I left their country." Then Frodo remembered the resin-tea
that kept him and his household in health throughout the hungry winter,
and his heart ached for his absent friend, wandering lonely and crazed
who knew where, but he kept silent on the matter.
But now his gaze moved from the puzzlement in Pippin's eyes, beyond him
to the men and hobbits unloading cargo onto the dock. Among them
labored a lean old graybeard, taller than the average run, muffled in a
travel-stained gray cloak, his face half-hidden in his hood. As though
sensing the hobbit's eyes on him, the man turned to give Frodo a keen
look, and then he smiled and winked. Frodo glanced over at Pippin, who smirked to one side, then turned to Fishenchips and Bergil.
"That man over there." Frodo pointed. "I know him. I should like him to
dine with us tonight. And Bergil, I think your wife might want to join
us too, just this once." At precisely that instant Elenaril stiffened,
turning her head this way and that, as though homing in on some sense
unknown to the others.
Bergil turned and frowned. "Him? He seems rather a rough sort to me. Are you sure you recognize him? From where?"
"Yes, yes, quite sure. He's uh, he's an old friend of the family's."
"A man?" Now Bergil stared at him like catching him in a lie.
"Yes, well, my father met him in Bree, if you must know. Got Papa out
of a bit of a jam, he did." By now Pippin grinned openly behind
Bergil's back. Meanwhile Elenaril had turned towards the man in
question, almost as though she could see indeed, and gasped.
Bergil leaned down and whispered in Frodo's ear, "If he is in any way connected to Mattie's blackmail..."
"No, no, nothing of the sort!"
Bergil shook his head, and more loudly said. "Some of those stains on his cloak look like old blood."
"He hunts. Why must you be so suspicious?"
"Because you are not suspicious enough."
Pippin finally burst out laughing. "I should tell you that that man is,
in fact, familiar to all of us more prominent citizens of the Shire.
Rough, you say? Indeed, to all enemies of hobbits, he is! In times past
he even helped to ward our borders, though he will not now set foot in
our country, honoring the King's pledge." Pippin whistled and waved the
man over. At the same time Elenaril strode towards them, her cane
tapping briskly ahead of her.
The keen gray eyes smouldered from the shadow of the greybeard's hood,
but not in any hostile way; rather they shone after the fashion of one
who lets nothing escape his gaze. As he drew close Frodo caught the
scent of a clean man unafraid to sweat, and a redolence of pipeweed
curiously out of place in these days of scarcity. The tall fellow bowed
quite meekly to the gathering, and said in a deep voice, "I am honored
to find myself in such company, good sirs."
"The honor is ours," Frodo responded with a bow of his own, scarce daring to breathe.
Bergil did not bow, but asked, "And what name do you go by, old one?"
The man crooked a wry smile and said, "Some have called me Strider."