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 soon.
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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