For Into Darkness Fell His Star
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 15, Part 156
A Healing Tested
May 8, 1452
Over breakfast, the next day, Elessar became grave and turned to the hobbit as they ate. "I did not want to say anything yesterday, Frodo, because you needed one good day free of worries of any sort. But what I learned during the healing disturbs me." He took a forkful of bacon and chewed thoughtfully, as though reluctant to continue.
"Go on," Frodo urged him between mouthfuls.
"Sauron has no innate power left to draw upon, and so must plan carefully on how to sustain himself through others. When he attempted to drag Legolas to the Shire before, he suckled from the new-made ring, amplifying and devouring power from Legolas until the elf hardly knew himself anymore."
Frodo set down his fork and stared at the king, who buttered himself some bread and turned to the hobbit, saying, "Sauron has no such aid in you, and depends primarily on nearby poppy-fiends to drain. So far as I know, none exist in the Shire or anywhere near--a guess, but an educated one, based on the kinds of crimes that follow wherever opia is sold. Nor did the ledgers of Brandybuck Mercantile indicate any trade of poppy-gum west of the Misty Mountains."
Elessar laid the bread aside, untasted. "I must, however, conclude that Sauron would not have attempted to reach the Shire without plans to furnish himself with fodder for his needs. Therefore someone in Arnor, someone known to Sauron, works diligently and in secret to make all ready for the coming of his master. Someone--perhaps an employee of Brandybuck Mercantile, perhaps even kin--makes preparations to peddle the drug even in the Shire itself!"
"No! Who could hate their own land so cruelly?"
Strider picked up his bread, chewed some with his gaze far away and his brows drawn down, and then said, "Saruman did not weave snares for Sandyman alone. Who knows what others, seeing his fate, bide their time, hiding their hearts, concealing a contempt for all things pastoral until the time arrives for them to act? And who knows what listeners passed on strange teachings to their children? Are you enjoying the butter, Frodo"
"What? Oh. Yes. Yes of course."
"Good. Because your father's letter to me said that you miss being able to cook with butter. I had tubs of the stuff set within larger barrels of water to keep it fresh for the journey just for you."
"Uh, yes. Quite thoughtful. Thank you. We made cookies with it yesterday, as a matter of fact. I do appreciate it. But back to what you're saying..."
"A simple thing, butter," said the King, taking a little more on his knife. "Yet good women work hard to churn it, then paddle the salt in and the last of the buttermilk out--so easy to forget all of the labor that goes into it when we spread it on our food." He buttered another small piece of bread and ate it.
"Imagine a Shire where few make butter anymore, where the lasses nod beside their empty churns, their kine long sold, their children hungry, bestirring themselves only to do whatever they must to win more gum."
Frodo shuddered. "I don't need to imagine it--I have seen much the same here. What I cannot imagine is how Mordor ever functioned under Sauron."
"Efficiently. As I have reconstructed it, Sauron in his full power banned the gum in his own territory, offering it only to the princes of men in other lands--those who could get away with idleness until too late, those whose control mattered most to the Dark Lord. They, in turn, guarded it with the jealousy of a royal privilege. It did not become common until after his fall--when it burst upon the populace all at once, and spread like plague." He looked on Frodo gravely. "It is, in fact, only through your trials that even now I begin to understand why events unfolded in that way and what it portends for our future. So you have not suffered in vain, if that affords you any consolation."
"Some. But I find it hard to think of 'consolation' when Sauron would destroy the Shire--and don't his allies see this?"
"Opia brings a blinding kind of power, Frodo--a persuasion even more potent, more enthralling--than its own deceits. Its slaves will do anything to obtain more gum: kill if commanded, even slowly kill themselves, day by poisoned day: that much you have seen. Yet consider that whoever dispenses the poppy gum commands the slaves."
"I know. The Lady Eowyn told me."
"I know she spoke to you of its victims, but did she speak of the still worse evil of its peddlers? Men have ordered appalling things--things I cannot bring myself to describe, things beyond the imagination of the orcs themselves--just to prove that they can."
"Who would want such power?"
"Those with a devouring emptiness inside, ever trying to fill it up. Sauron is not the only being to become like that."
Frodo remembered his days under a dragon's spell and said nothing, lost in thought.
Strider pulled out his pipe and muttered, "Speaking of emptiness..." as he felt the flaccidness of his pouch. With an irritable smile, he said, "Now, if you will excuse me, I would like to catch the blacksmith before his work begins, and have a word or two with him about borrowing between friends."
"It surprised me to see..." Frodo began, and then stopped.
"Surprised to see an elf smoke? Fear not--I know what Lanethil is. It is actually not uncommon among certain clans among the Moriquendi, though few now know much of their customs beyond their own hidden enclaves, except for Thranduil's people, and they have mingled with the Sindar. Elrond taught me somewhat about the shyer tribes, for as a Ranger I had dealings with the Hidden People now and then. I know, for instance, that they do not use pipeweed in the same manner as a hobbit might, or a man, but rather for cleansings of spirit, as I might use athelas, or Elenaril employs her sage. Indeed, Lanethil suggested that hobbits might have learned its use from Moriquendi passing through the Old Forest, back in the days when their westernmost colony used to live there."
"Please! Must we learn everything at the feet of the elves? We hobbits are rather proud of having invented this one pleasure, at least, by ourselves."
At this Strider chuckled. "And well you should be! For from his own accounts of this surprisingly late developing custom, it may well be that the Moriquendi learned to smoke from hobbits, and not the other way around. But we shall leave Lanethil with his illusions intact," he said with a wink.
Frodo couldn't help but grin. "And did you say to Lanethil, 'We shall leave the periannath with their illusions intact'?"
"That is neither here nor there. The important thing is that he intended to bless you."
"That is good enough for me. Well, off to work, then."
Frodo had much to think about as he toiled in the field that day. The snap beans now wanted picked, besides the chard. And he hoped to plant another round of radishes while he had the water for them. The ponds had only filled part way, though that improved things over the water rushing helter-skelter to the sea and taking their hard-won topsoil with it. Yet other matters compelled more of his attention: his thoughts kept stealing back to the Shire, to his brothers and sisters, and what might happen if one day someone offered them a pipeful of something other than Longbottom Leaf. He gripped the chard too hard and bruised the stems.
Noon couldn't come soon enough for him. He looked forward to his daily lunch with Crookyteeth; she would understand his need to talk about these things. At noon break he hastened to the hillside where he knew she would graze her flock that day. He rode Bleys, without the cart, up a stony path barely two hand's breadths wide, the donkey as surefooted as any goat, the picnic basket strapped behind his saddle. There, over the next rise and down a little bit...
"Crookyteeth!" he cried, leaping to the ground and running to the moaning pile of bloodied rags. "What happened?" He cradled her head in his lap and gave her water to drink. Blood stained the leather of his waterskin, as Frodo saw that she had lost another tooth. "Who did this to you?" For he could see that though the scratches on her body, revealed in the tatters, looked like the work of beasts, mere animals would not have left such bruises on her face.
"They, they don't like me bein' yer fav'rite," she whimpered in his arms. "They say I've gotten fat on fav'ritism, that I, I, I disgust 'em."
"Who?" Horrible thoughts of Ted Sandyman crowded Frodo's mind, so that he could hardly see through a haze of red.
"The, the other women. Lots of 'em. They don't like me no more." When Frodo helped her sit up, she sobbed into his shoulder, hunched over his smallness, quivering with dismay. "E-even Baker. I, I gave Baker some o' yer recipes. I saved the richest milk an' the biggest eggs fer her work. I thought she liked me."
In a tight voice Frodo asked, "Was Mayor Aloe among them?"
"I don't know. I don't think so. I din't see who all...but no. I'm sure of it. That ain't her style."
Frodo helped her up to her feet, and did his best to help her walk to Bleys, though her greater size, leaned upon him, caused them to stagger this way and that. For the first time in his life he wished he'd been born a man--a man would have whisked her up into his arms and carried her. "Do you think it might be Mayor Aloe's 'style' to get others to do her dirty work for her?"
"Oh no, not her. She's got her pride, our Mayor has. She publicly declared you fair game at the Dance of Seeds--she'd not go back on that."
"That is a comfort at least." He struggled to help her up into the saddle. "We need to get you to a healer. No, don't worry about the goats. I shall herd them beside you as I lead Bleys. Yes, of course I know how--how do you think they got from Gondor to the Backwards River? No more fretting, dearest...there you go." Her knees stuck up with her feet in the high stirrups, and she seemed at first sight to overwhelm the little donkey, but Bleys did not object to his burden, after one startled bray, staring at his master's face and seeming to read the worry there.
The nannies, as it happened, simply followed Frodo out of remembered habit, and their kids gamboled behind, leaping down rock-faces with abandon, cheerfully unaware of the grimness of their two-legged leaders. Frodo stayed by Bleys the whole time, holding Crookyteeth's hand, as she swayed in the saddle, clutching at a rib. Bleys stepped carefully down the plunging path, finding the gentlest way. They traveled quite some distance before Crookyteeth said, through swollen lips, "I won't be havin' lunch with ye no more, me dear, me darlin', darlin' hobbit."
"I understand," he said quietly, and not another word escaped the clenching of his jaw until he reached the village. But he did not head for Elenaril's unfinished hospital, already surrounded by patients waiting for a break in the work to seek the aid of the Herbwife of Bristlescrub. He turned instead for the smithy, where he found Lanethil and Strider in unintelligible conversation. The King dropped a new-forged knife that he'd been inspecting and ran to the donkey, taking Crookyteeth carefully into his arms. He shot out questions as fast as Frodo could answer while he laid her down in Lanethil's bed. "A plague upon the envious!" he cried as he cleaned her wounds, and Lanethil turned white.
"Take care, O King of Men," said the elf. "You forget where you are. In this land curses can come true--especially when uttered by one with more than political authority."
At that Elessar paled, himself, and sudden shame filled his widening eyes. But Frodo leaped up and cried out, "Yes! A pox upon them all! Upon every envious shrew that raised a hand against my Crookyteeth, who never did them harm!" And something terrible flashed through him, so that those in the smithy saw a red light burning in his eyes. And they felt a wave of something sickening ripple forth from him, passing through them briefly but not lingering.
"O Frodo," Lanethil whispered. "What have you done?"
Then Frodo recalled himself. "No. Ohhhh no...NO! I take it back, oh please!" He tore at his hair, crying, "Oh heavens, heavens, it's happening again--I cannot seem to go through any healing without instantly plunging back into evil's grip! Would that I were dead!" But Strider grabbed him even as he reached for Sting.
"Do not dishonor that historied blade with an ignoble deed!" Strider lifted the hobbit up onto a worktable so that they could look each other in the eye, not letting go of him. "Listen to me, Frodo son of Samwise. You are truly healed--though you remain as flawed as anyone. It is only Sauron's deceit that makes you seem unfit to live. Yes, he harnessed the power of your wrath to make your curse come true. But you can undo it, Frodo. You can now call the power back, weakening the curse, and the rest I will take care of."
The hobbit shook in his grip like one who has labored too hard, too long. "I...what if I can't? What if I, forgiven so often, cannot find it in me to forgive? How evil I have become! Best that I should be thrust into the Outer Darkness where I may do no further harm!"
"Noooo," Elessar said in a more soothing rumble, clasping the hobbit to him. "No, do not think like that, not you, who have suffered so much to nourish the people of Nurn. Shhhh...remember how small, how weak, the onetime Dark Lord has become. Do not feed him with your fear. He is nothing, not even a blowfly, nothing left of him but a mistake. Yes, he remains with you, but Frodo, you are now his master. Command him to silence, with confidence, and silent he will fall."
"That hardly ever works," Frodo said, but in a slightly calmer voice.
"In the past you have begged him, and he fed off of your beggary. Do not feed him! Command him by the Source of all healing and all life, and he cannot resist you, for he is nothing but a dead thing too stubborn to admit his state."
"He's taunting me," Frodo moaned. "He's telling me about his plans to take over my father, to use his body and make it his own, how he will leave Papa one corner of the brain from which to watch all of his deeds in horror as he rebuilds Mordor in the Shire."
"None of which he can do unless you empower him with your death."
But Frodo seemed to hear only another voice, and his eyes glazed over as he listened. "All hobbit-holes shall he command more deeply delved, down, down into a honeycomb of tunnels for his slaves, tunnels that never see the light of day nor touch of moving air..."
"Silence him, Frodo. You can do it."
"No--I can't!" Suddenly the hobbit fought the arms of the King with nails and teeth. "Let me go! You know nothing! You are useless! You are a fraud!" But the King would not let go.
"Draw upon that power beyond yourself. You can--he cannot. Silence him. If you have this victory, right here, right now, all other victories will come easier forevermore. He will crawl upon your surface like a mouthless maggot, a little thing of annoyance and disgust that cannot bite..starving...dwindling...stop feeding him! Feed yourself instead upon the light of Valinor!"
And suddenly Frodo remembered that light, like throwing open the shutters on his soul. And he drank in the memory, as the leaves in his fields drank in the light of the sun, and it nourished him, warming through him as something more than substance.
"Win this victory," Elessar told him, "And you will need no further spirit-healings."
Frodo clenched his fists and eyes, panting hard. And then he relaxed, opening his eyes once more, and they were wide and blue and clear. "He shut up," the hobbit said in wonder.
The king laughed in weary relief, letting go at last to lean against the table. "Now feel your own power flowing back into you. You have only to claim it, Frodo."
After a moment, in a whisper of awe, Frodo said, "You're right!"
"Forgiveness will grace you in the same manner, tomorrow, when the sick women shall come to us for healing. Do not limit yourself to your own capacity--draw upon Nienna, and she will fill you with mercy beyond yourself."
"Us? For healing?"
"Yes. You must stand beside me, removing your curse from each and every one as they approach, that I may have no obstacle to my work. But that will come tomorrow, as the women sicken and seek us for relief."
"And in the meantime?"
"Today you still have beans to pick."