For Into Darkness Fell His Star
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 21, Part 162
Family and the Old Forest
May 16-17, 1452
Frodo worked the chewed twig-tip into the chalk-and-charcoal tooth powder, and scrubbed his teeth, trying especially to clean the aching one. Yet his tongue--and heart--still remembered the sweetness of his mother's brandy cookies. If he could force himself to scrub in deeply enough, the tooth wouldn't hurt much at all after that initial twinge, and he could get a good night's sleep.
Other than that soon-fading discomfort, Frodo actually felt rather good--full and sleepy and pleased beyond measure that the child he had come to cherish had found acceptance in her community at last. When he had finished his ablutions and shrugged his nightshirt on, he tucked himself in with a sense of satisfaction, that things were finally going right, that he had nothing more to worry about.
But then strange sounds disturbed him in the night; creakings and groanings and crackles surrounded the tower-house. At last he could leave it unattended no longer. He slipped out of bed, down, down the spiraling stairs, listening intently, making no noise himself that might alert his guardian. He passed a window-slit low enough to see out of, and glanced out there, in the night, upon a mournful pony grazing in the moonlight. Black spatters on the saddle looked like blood. Frodo went on, and reached the ground floor, the stones cold to his feet. Carefully he slipped the bar from the door to maintain the silence, and stepped out onto his porch, in the night.
And he found that the Old Forest completely surrounded his home. It did not surprise him; it had always been thus. He stepped out onto the soft forest floor, moss between his toes, making not a sound beneath the old complaints of ancient trees, softly moving in and out of streams of moonlight between the tower-dwarfing trunks.
"Frodo?" A little girl called out. "Frodo--where are you?"
"Here," he called back. Why would Dragon-Girl--no, Spring, he must remember always to call her Spring now--why would Spring wander out in the middle of the night?
"Frodo, I am scared--so scared! Where are you?"
"I'm right here--don't be afraid, honey. I'm coming." The streams of moonlight became fewer and fewer, the darkness nearly absolute.
""Frodo!" the child screamed. And Frodo ran, stumbling over roots and fallen boughs, careening into treetrunks in the dark, shoving through the clawing twigs that tore his clothing and his skin.
"I'm coming! I'm coming! Hold on!"
Gasping, now, he reached the banks of the Withywindle just in time to see, by the help of a single shaft of moonlight, one pale hand sucked into a crevice in the trunk of Old Man Willow and a tiny furry foot still left outside.
"May!" he screamed, "Maaaaaay!" until his own screams woke him up.
He made himself go back to sleep. He wandered through the Shire, playing a mournful eastern tune upon a pennywhistle, down a street made strange by moonlight. His baby brother passed him right by without seeing him, stumbling a little, looking dazed. "Tom?" Frodo asked. "Are you all right? I've come home, Tom--don't you have a greeting for your big brother?."
"He don't recognize us no more," he heard his mother say. Frodo turned around and saw Mama behind him, with the half-stunned gaze and the lines around her eyes of one who has wept so much that she has given up on tears. "He don't recognize anyone but the horse who dragged him home." Then Frodo turned again, and saw the blood dripping from his little brother's hair, black in the moonlight against the stark white collar.
"You'll know the tune to play," his mother told him solemnly. "The one that will make everything all right." But when he looked down at the pennywhistle he saw that it, too, dripped blood, and he threw it away in horror.
Frodo woke, turned over, and buried his head in his pillow, clutching the magnifying glass to his breast, his heart pounding against it.
Oh, can the poor, wee hobbit not sleep? Would you like me to sing you a lullaby?
"Shut up, Sauron," Frodo muttered reflexively, although he couldn't help but wonder--with a shudder--what the Dark Lord might have sung.
Oh, but our six hours have passed. You cannot shut me up so easily. And since you and I both find ourselves awake, we might as well chat.
"Why?" Frodo asked sarcastically. "Are you lonely?"
And what if I am? Something about the wounded dignity of the voice reminded Frodo that this was, after all, the shade of what had once been one of the mightiest of maiar. Are you not lonely, yourself, Frodo?
"Not really, no. Unlike you, I have friends."
Ah, but even with friends, the Great are always lonely.
Frodo felt the presence withdraw, yet he lay there awhile, thinking, before he rolled over and muttered, "Ridiculous!"
He fell asleep again. Once more he watched the willow-tree take in Legolas: the tendrils closing over hand and breast and foot and belly, twirling around the throat, closing the eyes and invading the mouth and ears and nostrils, intertwining with the long, brown curls...but no, that wasn't Legolas at all. Much too small, tiny even for hobbit-kind, a mere girlchild with her pinafore all stained and torn...
But before he could figure out who had gone into the tree, Gimli turned towards him and said, "Ho, there, Frodo-Lad, far-traveled gardener! Barefoot and tatter-clad, in a land that's harder." The yellow-booted dwarf gave him such a burning gaze that Frodo could not look away. "Old Tom and younger Tom walked the woods together. Old Tom summoned help and sings for fairer weather. She stays safe and sound though none might now believe her. Good folk watch her steps and dry the tears that grieve her."
And now he saw his mother again, folding little dresses into a cedar chest, dark spots of tears speckling the fabric, until at last she sank her head onto her folded arms on the chest and sobbed outright. He ran to hug her, console her, but found himself clasped by branches, high above the ground, Hazel murmuring over him.
"It's all right, Hazel," he said. "Put me down. I'm all grown up, now, and don't need mothering."
The wands stiffened, and then bent low at last to release him. So it was that once again Frodo walked the Old Forest, playing the wailing music of Mordor on a common Shire whistle, until just the right moment, when he raised up his magnifying glass, and a beam of sunlight cut through the leafy gloom, sparkling on the pink gemstones, shining through the lens, tightening down to a beam that gleamed in the eyes of a mud-streaked, savage face peering from between the trees...
The image startled him awake once more.
I can see that you are having a rough night, Frodo dear. You know that I could help you sleep, even dreamlessly if you wish.
"I know," Frodo said, lying on his back and staring at the darkness overhead that somewhere hid the roofbeams. "And you know that I have already made up my mind on the issue."
Ah, but a wise leader knows that one should always be prepared to change one's mind.
"Agreed. You're absolutely right. And if I ever dream of Gandalf, or Bilbo, or someone else I trust, recommending a change of mind on anything, I would seriously consider it." His own answer filled him with peace, and he fell back to sleep.
He saw Uncle Merry and Uncle Pippin, and their wives, and the Bolgers, and Bram Maggot, all gathered around an adoption document, dipping their pens into dark red ink. But just then little Tom strode in, with the determined steps of the grimmest of adults, and glancing at nobody, he shoved through them as though they were all the children, not him. Frodo saw his glazed eyes burning from a blood-drenched face, and blood clotted his hair. The little lad reached up and grabbed the document in a crumpling hand, and ripped it to pieces, then threw the pieces over his shoulder as if suddenly no longer interested in them, and a wind came into the courthouse and blew them all away. Tom wandered out again, his focus lost once more, and as he did so a single leaf fell from his brow where it had clung to the sticky hair.
Behind him Frodo heard a voice say, "'The wisest son forgets the most, the lies and truths together. The blankness of the winter-white gives way to fairer weather."
Frodo opened his eyes to the first dawn light, wishing that he and his father both had palantiri and could speak together. Or at least that he might have one palantir, and look back upon whatever happened in the Shire.
But then he yawned and said, "That's no good. It'd probably be as confusing as looking into ol' Galadriel's mirror, from what I hear. I bet it would make no more sense than any of these crazy dreams!" He sat up and stretched. "It must have been all of that business with Spring yesterday--got my mind onto little ones in frightening situations."
He had, after all, more important things to think about, he told himself. All of the crops seemed to be coming due at once--and here they had not even begun on summer yet. By the time he descended the stairs (which of course opened onto no windows, low or otherwise, being in the center of the house) he remembered nothing of his dreams except that they had been bothersome and probably best forgotten.
The willow-leaf, that had fallen from his hair when he had stretched and yawned that morning, lay on the floor unnoticed, for all the hours that Frodo worked in the fields, until, just before he returned, a wind swooped into the high-slit window, downward to the floor, and blew it under the bureau, there amid the dust-bunnies and stray hair, to rest beside a long-lost button. By the time men would move the bureau, many years hence, the leaf had crumbled into dust. Few ever catch the clues that we live in a far, far stranger world than most would care to imagine.