For Into Darkness Fell His Star
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 23, Part 164
Hardships, Hopes, and Spices
May 19, 1452--I must say, Sam, your son certainly has a heavy hand with the spices when he cooks! I can't say that I have gotten used to it so far. I fear that dear Cousin Merry has corrupted the lad beyond repair with his strange imports, and now that Frodo lives in readier access to all of the seasonings of the East...well, I fear that his once-famous cooking will never be the same. In any case, speaking of food, I cannot help but notice that he chews very carefully on one side of his mouth, and winces periodically when he bites wrong. That can only mean trouble.
The poor lad has had a rather disappointing day. He discovered beetles infesting his beloved sourfruit bushes. As he tells it, this often happens to drought-weakened trees (trees? Even a hobbit can tell the difference.) But then he and Elenaril conferred, and she came up with some concoction of soap and the most ferocious of the spices in the kitchen. (Splendid! Perhaps she will use them all up.) She says that this will kill anything menacing the sourfruits, and I can well believe her, for they have nearly slain me! I tell you, I have not had indigestion this bad since I ate orc-bread on the run through Rohan.
In any case, I cherish hope, and not just for the drafting of his condiments to better service than the burning of my tongue. Clouds form in the mackerel patterns that promise rain in about a week.
May 20, 1452– Today we pulled beets. Wrinkled little things, like red-faced old gaffers on a tear, with hairy roots like those straggles of beard that some Stoors get. But the Seasiders seemed heartened to pull anything edible up out of their own hard soil, so I praised the crop with the best of them. At any rate, a side of beets for dinner tasted delicious once your son had his way with them, so I have no reason to complain. If anything, they were sweeter than the average run. And he only used one herb on them, bless his heart.
I am especially grateful that he refrained from a particularly odious seasoning (and I mean odious literally!) called by the ungracious local name of "garlkh". I am sure it must derive from orkish cuisine. It is a sort of lumpy little bulb with a harsh and sulfurish taste, that ruins the breath for hours after ingestion. Your son loves it. He says it reminds him of some sort of Mirkwood fungus that he is also fond of. Why am I not surprised?
Frodo had sad things to discuss at table, I fear. One of the laborers, he noted, did not show up for work. I think he knows every citizen in the entire village by name, by now, plus all who come into town from other villages to do business. Inquiry revealed that the man had fallen ill from infected and spreading skin lesions, and now rests in hospital.
A worrisome business, that; so far as I can tell, I am the only person in Seaside unafflicted by sores, and only because I am new here. It comes of bathing and laundering in Nurnen water, they tell me, having no other option in this drought, unless they prefer to go dirty (as many do) and I suppose develop sores of a different and even more pernicious sort, not to mention suffering the social consequences. Your son has several sores that have run together on his left arm, while another loops over his right ankle and spreads down the front of his foot. He does not pay them any mind. When I expressed concern he called it a small price to pay for diverting the water ration to his crops.
Oh, I know, we all endured the grunge of travel when we had to, but marching in cool weather cannot compare to fieldwork in the hot Mordor sun. You want a bath, sometimes, more than food or drink. I know I cannot resist, even under these conditions. And your son has become most fastidious, particularly when he decides to buy bread rather than bake it, which is all the time now. He says it is much too hot for indoor cooking, and the bakery has an outdoor oven.
At least the baker does not spice her loaves!
May 21, 1452--Frodo cannot hide it any longer. He has the toothache. He kept pausing in the beet harvest to hold his cheek and moan, right there where he knelt in the rows. I advised him to see to it as speedily as possible--putting off the inevitable would not help him one bit. I was going to take over the kitchen today, but he beat me to it, insisting upon serving soup. Puree-soft but furiously spicy soup.
May 22, 1452--Fishenchips, being the resident expert on hobbit health and well-being, pulled Frodo's tooth for him. A ghastly business, and worse than you'd expect, but quickly done. The problem was that young Frodo would have no anaesthetic beyond a numbing oil that the apprentice leech rubbed upon his gum. I did suggest that there couldn't possibly be a more fitting occasion to put aside his scruples against strong drink, but his eyes grew so wide at the mere mention of it that you could see the whites all of the way around. What has Sauron done to the lad?
I did the best I could by him, Sam. I held him in my lap like the child he used to be, when Fishenchips brought out the pliers. I braced his head in my hands, I pinned his arms with my elbows, I locked his body with my knees. He bucked and screamed, blood sprayed, and then it was all over. He shivered like a newborn calf, afterwards, but then, shakily, wiped his mouth and went back to work. You have a strong son, old friend.
I am glad to see this taken care of. I hope he will eat freely again. He had started to lose the weight we had so encouraged him to gain, to bring him up to a healthy norm. We have not yet gotten him up to where he should be--he remains quite thin. He reminds me rather too much of his namesake, as a matter of fact, in terms of build, but at least he grows healthier every day, not less so.
I, for my part, have shed a few pounds, on the infernal diet of this household. They all celebrate the abundance that they enjoy now after famine, but what good is abundance when one chokes on all of the seasonings, I ask you?
Yet I have this much consolation. Fishenchips rendered the oil down from most of Frodo's collection of little, dark tree-buds in a jar, in order to make the pain-dulling balm. It encourages me to know just how many uses these barks and buds and heaven knows what have besides tormenting my digestion. I am sure that he will buy more at the earliest opportunity, but only when the next ship comes in--the same one that will bear me home to gentler food.
The down side is that Fishenchips has recommended that, for Frodo's sake, we increase the garlkh in our suppers. Supposedly it boosts healing. That is just my luck!
May 22, 1452--The hot weather has set in with a vengeance. The locals say that this is nothing compared to what will come--when already the land swelters in what the Shire would call a hard summer broil. Yet I took heart, toiling in the fields beside your boy, at the gladness in his eyes, the peacefulness of his smile. It seems that sweat offends Sauron no end, and so the Dark Lord has withdrawn, even without cookies. And clouds begin to build--it won't be long, now.
I could see what he means, this day, about the beauty of this land. Haggard, like a handsome lady who has seen too much of hardship, yet who holds her head up and finds a certain pride in all she has endured, that dignity informing every line and bone of her. Just so must Morwen, Mother of Turin have looked in her day. In any case, the shifting sun and shadow across the land painted the fields and nearer hills in ever-changing tones of brown, from deep-shadowed coppers and umber to sun-blazoned golds and ochers, while the mountains in the distance changed their panoplies of indigo and lavender, mauve and violet-gray, moment by moment, under a sky of blue and diamond-white. And ever the sea, to the north of us, shimmered in shades of blues and greens. You will not find here the beauty of a Shire garden or a Green-Hill mead, but you find that you do not need it; you imbibe enough of loveliness to live on.
We had a refreshing dip, after the day's work, in an ocean pool, relatively calm between boulders, waves crashing against the stone. Frodo gave me due caution about minding my feet, not to step near any of the myriad creatures that would like to separate me from my toes, but I found the expedition well worth the risk, just planting my feet in one sandy place and letting all of that coolness wash around me. After awhile Frodo frowned; his blowfly had returned. But then the two of us sat drying on a sea-smoothed rock and discussed old times together until our sentimentality disgusted Sauron anew and drove him back again.
Frodo spoke much about Billy-Lass, and soon became as cheerfully weepy as though with drink. Yet it did him good to reminisce on what has truly mattered--all of the things that puffed-up dark lords have forgotten, or never knew to begin with. What could Sauron understand of picnics and pony-rides, of pratfalls and loveable foibles, and the deep friendship of a simple beast who needed no great intellect to plumb the mysteries of loyalty? What we mourn, when balanced well with life, teaches us to appreciate all that we have right now.
Your son moved on, in time, to anecdotes about his donkey, Bleys, and he laughed before the tears upon his cheeks had dried, about Bleys eating the dried flowers on the mayor's hat, when she had set it aside to primp her hair in the reflection of a sheet of metal in the blacksmith's shop--and then, the poor dumb beast, on witnessing her displeasure, nosed the hat back towards her as though offering to share a bite!
I pressed my luck upon his good mood, and managed to finagle a shot at cooking tonight's meal. It seemed a kindness to give his newly mended mouth something pleasant to wrap itself around. I served him first, and he tasted my proffered fare with no great pleasure, but managed to give me a smile anyway, though a strained one. Then I tasted it myself. I understand now the wisdom of disguising Mordor fare with extra seasonings. The oddest thing--I found myself missing most at least a little savor of garlkh.
May 24, 1452--Frodo tells me that today is his brother Bilbo's birthday. It does do my heart good to know that that venerable old name continues on in the Shire. It was a pity that neither Baggins ever married. But I suppose, knowing what we know now, that the Ring could not have allowed the kind of growth that matrimony would have brought. You know, I never thought about it before, but Gollum bit the marriage-finger off; Frodo must have habitually put his ring on that one, when he wore it, maybe without even realizing it. (Not that we could ever confirm that--who ever saw him wearing it? That was the whole point!) Oh, what a devouring wife!
Your Frodo, now, is not likely to have any trouble in the courtship department, once he rejoins his own kind. The women of Seaside flirt with him at every corner, in a fashion so brazen that it makes me blush, and I am not exactly inexperienced in the world. And yes, I know you cannot expect delicacy of Nurnings, but how the females treat their own men seems more like contempt in comparison to how they coo and dimple whenever they lay eyes upon our lad--and he standing half their size! He, of course, eats it up. His eyes always sparkle just a little bit more, and the bounce returns to his step, after he gallantly bows and smiles as though they had said something respectable. I suppose for this land it comes close enough.
I should disapprove. I should fear him developing rude habits. (And in truth, I am sad to say, he has learned some unfortunate language from these wenches.) But forgive me for being his indulgent "uncle" and not a proper paternal figure. It does my heart good to see him glow like that.
Frodo, of course, will want to tell you all about the summer squash ripening early. Or maybe not. It does not surprise him, the weather here being what it is. Anyway, we had a delicious squash dinner, to which I cannot compare anything at home. He has learned of herbs foreign to me that suit the vegetable like no other. None of which, happily, burn the tongue. Except for the garlkh--I will allow that I do like a little bit of garlkh on my squash.
May 25, 1452--Today we watched rain trying to fall from the clouds amassing overhead. You could see the veils and sheets of rain come drifting downward, swirled a little in the wind. But then it all evaporated before it hit the ground. All it accomplished was to make the heat feel heavier.
You like dreams, Sam. Well, I had a queer one last night, and you were in it. Or rather, I was in your home, at least to start out with. You had invited me and mine, and the Brandybucks, and the Bolgers, and the Maggots, and Rosie brought out a great punch bowl. I stared at the red stuff in it and thought it blood, but you laughed and cried out, "No, no, you fool, it is only ink!" Well, that seemed to make it all right. Someone started up with a pennywhistle, and we were all going to dip deep into the bowl and have ourselves a drink, when the whistle started shrieking something awful, and a horse galloped right through, knocking the punch bowl aside. Well, I shouldn't be too surprised about horses stampeding through the festivities, because somehow we no longer occupied Bag End at all, but gathered under some densely crowded trees, close together like walls and curving over us like a hobbit-hole--all quite natural-seeming, as will happen in dreams. I pointed out that some of the ink had splashed all the way up to the branches, but you laughed again and said, "No, no, this time it really is blood," and everybody joined you in laughing at my confusion, and Mistress Rose declared, "That's a sign of a wedding, it is."
Anyway, a silly dream, but I should count myself lucky. Frodo says that sooner or later Mordor gives nightmares to everyone, on a fairly regular basis. So far (and not counting our passage through haunted Poros Pass) my dreams have merely been peculiar.
May 26, 1452– I have noticed for some time now that Bergil and a number of the men have been limping for awhile. Whenever they sit they curl up and pull their knees close to their chests. Now Frodo has started to do it, too. He says that pain streaks down the backs of his legs, sometimes from buttock to knee, sometimes all the way from waist to ankle. It is the poison in the bathing water that does it.
More and more of the villagers go dirty. The smell..well, I suppose you'd tell me Shelob's lair was worse. Still, it rather reminds me of finding my nose buried in the jowl of an Uruk-Hai. For the first time I feel a little sorry for the beggars--did Saruman give them no decent water to bathe in? But whenever the odor gets to me, I remember the tales I heard in my boyhood about the Fell Winter. I wouldn't exactly call that a fragrant occasion either, with everyone for miles around crammed together into Took Hall for the duration, and no fresh air to clear it. At least here we have the ocean breezes and the green scent from when the winds ruffle through the crops above town.
So you will forgive me if I advised your son to follow suit and let the bathing go, hot weather notwithstanding. I think the sore above his lip finally convinced him. More of his spices have gone into concocting pomanders to mask the body's odor, including the last of those little bud things. He still has ladies on his mind, I fear (or the closest local equivalent) even if he has resolved not to court any of them since what happened to Crookyteeth; he probably would have resorted to this expedient long before if not for his desire to charm the females among men.
I do admit to some suspicions that he might be leaning towards resuming the old romance. He spends good money on baked goods even when he has plenty of time to cook at home. He buys the bread in small quantities, he says to keep things fresh, but so it chances that we quickly run out, which gives him cause to buy more. I say if you want your bread fresh you ought to make it yourself! But I will not say anything of the sort until he puts a little more flesh on those poor bones of his. And at least most of what he brings home tastes bland enough to please me, although today he came back with some sort of spiraled sweet rolls with a dark red paste between the spirals that sent me gasping for water. This hardly counts for civilized fare, I tell you! But if it pleases him and brings him closer to health, he may have all of the red-bark rolls that he desires, bless his poor, dear heart! I think the boy deserves desserts of his own fancy, after all he's seen. At least he fancies something; his namesake hardly had an appetite, in the end, for anything at all.
Well, those dark days have long since passed, and Bag End thrives exactly as our elder Frodo would have wanted, the halls ringing with the shouts of children, the garden overflowing, and all of those fields that Lotho bought so dear, once choked in Sharkey's filth, now plowed and cherished and grown as heavy with abundance as a nine-month bride. And you the proud patriarch over all. How he would have loved to have seen that, Sam! I can only hope that palantirs are common in that land beyond the sea, and that he has seen all--yes, even into the future--and laughed for pleasure at the sight. I do remember the music of his laugh, on the rare occasions that it broke the stillness that hung about him always. He must have laughed often in Valinor, and even the subtle ears of the highest elves would have taken note, feeling glad.
I wish that poor old Lobelia, too, would have some way of knowing, beyond the grave, how faithfully you have cherished her son's fields back to health, and how their surpluses and profits fill the coffers of the community chest, blessing all who fall on hard times in the Shire. You have discharged well and more than well the duty she bequeathed to Frodo Senior. And that would have also delighted my cousin, gazing into his hypothetical palantir.
Oh, but I do grow maudlin in my aging years, my dear old friend! But you won't mind, I am sure of that. We will have much to discuss, face to face, in the cheery confines of the Green Dragon, when I find my way home again.