The Adventures
of
Frodo Gardner

Volume V
For Into Darkness Fell His Star
By Dolores J. Nurss

Chapter 25, Part 166
Truths and Consequences
May 27-28, 1452

As Frodo's high-pitched giggles built to howls of laughter, Sauron started laughing, too, embarrassing spatters of blood accentuating every chuckle and helpless guffaw. Frodo pounded on the foul-smelling wheel of slightly yielding, dark material that towered over him, while frequent whooshes of air whipped his hair and clothing, from blurs that raced past. "No, no, not again! Not your world once more!"
 
"Oh yes, I am afraid so--and not when I feel the least bit ready for company, either!" And Sauron tottered up to what remained of his feet and bowed. "But whatever the state of my humble abode, dear Frodo, I am only too happy to share it with you."
 
Frodo snorted from trying to speak and laugh at the same time. "Oh, generous! This...this..." He kicked at the broken glass. "Oh splendid jewels, scattered like the gemstones of the Noldor on the shores of Valinor!" They both howled at that, Sauron wheezing from the metal bisecting his chest.
 
"Ah, Frodo, but we have had some good times together--you cannot deny it."
 
"Good times?" the hobbit exclaimed, though he couldn't quite stop grinning. "On any number of occasions you have attempted to kill me, corrupt me, possess me, derange me, attack my family, my mission, and my race...and you call that good times?"
 
"Yes! Hasn't it been delicious?" The lone eye flashed.
 
Frodo sat down on a somewhat smaller wheel lying flat in the wreckage. "Well...occasionally perhaps. But not, on the whole, what I really want."
 
"Ooooh, nasty, uncomfortable adventures--make you late for dinner!"
 
Frodo chortled despite himself at the quote from the Red Book. "Not quite like that. But close. Adventure...well, it's sort of like the shock of jumping into cold water on a stupefyingly hot day. It wakes you up, sets you back on track in a way, makes you fit for things to come...but then you climb back out of the water, finish your work, and go home. Going home's the thing, in the end." He looked almost soberly at the ravaged Dark Lord. "I don't suppose you really have a home to go to anymore. Just this dream." He shook his head at the sight of a splinter of bone jutting from Sauron's leg. "And I don't think it has served you well."
 
"Oh, this." Sauron reconstituted himself into a ravishing flame-haired maia. "It is all mere illusion. Like that matter of walking the bottom of the sea. I never actually did that after the fall of Numenor, you know--I simply dreamed of it--a dream that Olorin kept turning into a nightmare until I had to give up on it altogether. I returned to Middle Earth quite comfortably in spirit, actually, expanding my ring until it became a cloud wheeling around me, faster and faster, building up in wind and rain and lightning, till it crushed the sorry little coastal towns of so many who had dared to escape our ruin in the sinking of the Western Land."
 
Frodo applauded, chuckling again. "Thank you, Sauron!"
 
"Thank you?"
 
"For reminding me of what a vicious fellow you really are at heart." Whenever Frodo laughed, he noted, the Dark Lord's fair visage seemed to fade for just a moment, teeth showing again through the cheek, bone again jutting from the leg. "Every so often I forget."
 
"I try," Sauron answered with a charming smile...and then fell back into the wreckage with renewed gashes and broken bones, looking dead indeed. Frodo leaped up in alarm, just as the lone uneviscerated eye winked up at him, and then glazed over.
 
Loud howlings zoomed in upon the scene, vulpine but ten times as loud as the wails of wolves. Flashing red and white lights surrounded Frodo, dizzying him anew, as black and white vehicles raced to the scene. Burly men in dark blue livery leaped out and ran towards him.
 
While others concentrated on Sauron's apparent smoking corpse, one of the men knelt down by Frodo and started gibbering at him. Frodo just shook his head and laughed, until the man clapped manacles upon him, obviously fuming about something. Nearby another liveried man muttered in a handheld thing about "Ottomotev feytalliti...nintocsykatid mainar..." and other nonsense. At last Frodo shook his head and said, mustering his most precise pronunciation, "I am terribly sorry, my good sir, but I cannot understand a word that you are saying!"
 
"Illygael aelienne!" the man cried, slapping his own brow. "Jest mailuk!" He grabbed Frodo roughly and shoved him inside the black and white thing, into a caged-off portion, while reciting something formal and incomprehensible. None of it mattered anyway, this mere dream-adventure, even aside from Frodo's sense of numbness and amusement. The vehicle sailed away in a dreamy kind of rush, as smooth as flying, and Frodo found the seat wonderfully soft, though the manacles annoyed him slightly. Soon he half-drowsed against the door.
 
But then they arrived at this dreary building, all in grays, with inner walls of metal bars at every turn. People pushed him here and there, along with a number of surly human boys, similarly manacled. Sour-faced men and women made incomprehensible noises at him and the other captives at various stations around the journey, jotting notes on paper as they went, until finally they took all of his clothing and whatever he carried on his person (not laughing with him when he shouted, "What has it gots in its pocketses!" at them) and sealed his possessions in what looked like a pouch of glass fabric. Then they inspected his body in ways that he finally began to find uncomfortable, indeed impertinent in the extreme, but swiftly over with in the practiced moves of professional boredom. After that they shoved him under some device that sprayed warm, steamy water all over him, and then handed him a rough, white towel full of old stains to dry himself with.
 
Now he found gray clothing of an unappetizing cut awaiting him, and when he refused to put on the shoes and sacks, a muscular matron pinned him to the ground, while a second forced them onto his feet. The children present snickered and threw jeers at him, whose malice needed no translation. Finally the big matron shoved him into one among a whole hallway full of little barred rooms, containing hard, tall beds stacked atop each other, where gray-clad boys stared evilly from under the gray blankets at the newcomer.
 
None of which troubled Frodo too terribly. "It is all just a bad dream, prompted by a little too much wine. In the morning naught shall remain of any of this." He took off the shoes and sacks, noting that others had gotten away with as much in here, climbed up into his assigned place, snuggled under a blanket of his own, and fell instantly into deeper sleep.
 
Much to his dismay, however, when he finally opened his eyes, the dawn's light streaked in through metal bars. He sat up in horror, a monstrous headache the least of his worries, clutching a rough, brown blanket to his chest. Then he realized with disgust that he did not lie on a hard though clean bed after all, but rather a straw mat stinking of mildew and crawling with insects. Mud brick surrounded him on three sides, and the bars made up the fourth.
 
A toothless old geezer laughed from a nearby mat. "The young'uns allus wake up so surprised t'be here!"
 
Frodo blinked at him blearily. "Just exactly where is here?"
 
"Jail, ya sorry whelp! Where all good drunks'll find 'emselves these days, nows the Mayor's got it inter her head t'clean up the streets, as she puts it."
 
"No. Someone made a mistake." Frodo scratched at an insect bite, looking all around him at the Seaside Gaol. "I know the Mayor. And my friends would not allow..."
 
"...Allow you to face your just consequences?" boomed a familiar voice from the outside door.
 
"Bergil! Just the man I want to see!" Frodo scampered to the fore and grasped the bars. "Thank heavens you have come for me!"
 
"Who said I had any such intention?"
 
Frodo stared at him, and then, more quietly, asked, "Then at least, I hope, you brought some of Elenaril's wonderful green drink..."
 
"Not in the least. She has no time for blending potions, but rather spends the morning attempting to console the mortified baker, and neither one wants to speak to either you or Lanethil...who I see has not yet awakened." Only then did Frodo notice a third mat in the cell, in the darkest corner, where a disarray of golden locks spilled from the blanket's top.
 
The old man said, "Now he's a creepy one--blinks in his sleep. It gave me quite a turn, I tell ya, till I finally flipped him over where I didn't havta look at it."
 
Frodo asked, through his razoring headache, "Then why have you come, Bergil?"
 
"To bear a message. The woman formerly known as Crookyteeth, now called Pearl, wishes me to inform you--and you may pass this on to Lanethil when he wakes, as well--that she is perfectly capable of renaming herself, that she does not fancy ever being called Cupcake again, and in fact does not fancy seeing either of you for a minimum of three days, or until you both attain a proper level of shame for your behavior, whichever comes last."
 
"Oh good heavens!" Frodo groaned, rubbing his sore brow. "I did call her that, didn't I?"
 
"Yes. You did." Then Bergil hunkered down to the hobbit's level and said in a gentler voice, "I would not have come here on any errand, if not for the counsel of Fishenchips, who it seems had words with the King before our sovereign left. Tar Elessar warned him to expect such an 'experiment', as he put it, sooner or later--and advised us, in your best interest, to afford you no sympathy nor support whatsoever, but to permit you to experience the full impact of your deeds." At that the ranger stood, and finally allowed himself a small smile. "After all, what other goal does an experiment have, if not experience, and the lessons that it brings?"
 
"And what of Uncle Pippin? Will he at least come visit me?"
 
"He has cloistered himself in his quarters. I believe he said something about a need to catch up on his letter to your father. Oh--and something to the effect of, 'the fool should have saved it for his tooth extraction.'"
 
"Oh, what an idiot I have been!" Frodo said, burying his face in his hands.
 
"Yes. You have."
 
"How long, Bergil?"
 
"One day usually suffices, though the Mayor occasionally adds on time for those who behave badly while incarcerated." Then, to the man's surprise, Frodo started chuckling uncontrollably, leaning weakly on the bars. "What, precisely, do you find so funny?"
 
"Me! The whole absurdity of me--that and relief that this absolute disaster is such an ordinary, even sordid little disaster...so,*snicker* so refreshingly petty! And that Sauron can make nothing of it so long as I laugh at myself--and at the same time let myself feel too embarrassed to make the same mistake twice." Frodo blinked in surprise. "Why, come to think of it, the poor fool has finally learned to laugh at himself, as well; maybe he cannot help it, he has become so attuned to me, and so frail of his own will." Frodo looked up at Bergil with sudden wonder shining in his eyes. "He did not drain me, Bergil. Even at my weakest, sorriest moment, he could not drain me while I laughed. I drained him, instead."
 
"In that case, it gladdens me to hear your merriment." And Bergil turned to leave.
 
"But not so glad as to bail me out?"
 
"No." The door shut, and Frodo stood there contemplating his cellmates. Lanethil inhaled and exhaled in some delicate elvish equivalent of a snore, the only time that Frodo had ever heard an elf make any sound at all while sleeping; rather pleasant, actually. The hobbit reckoned that Lanethil must have celebrated the pending kaktush harvest for days to sleep so deeply now--but then what could one expect of the least wise among his kind? Frodo shook his head, smiling. With any luck, the smith should sleep right through his punishment, if indeed he did not add an extra day by not noting his release.
 
But Frodo knew well what went on in the outside world in his absence. To himself he said, "Today the cucumbers should have ripened for the plucking," and with that he sank to his mat, disregarding its wildlife, suddenly sober to the heart. "The men! They will harvest without me, of course. But how will I ever win back their respect? I abandoned work in the middle of the day to go off drinking!" Yet even then he felt some relief, to deal with mere men and not the Dark Lord, who seemed to recover more slowly than himself, feeling distant and faint.
 
"Oh, it ain't so bad as all that," the old man said. "'Tain't like they never did the same a time or two, or somepin like it." He hunkered forward, blinking at Frodo with closer attention. "I recall ye now--ye're from foreign parts, where all the men run smallish. Well, around here, folks forgives a lot--'cause if we din't, we'd none of us have any friends at all."
 
And Frodo felt a sudden rush of gratitude and love for the whole grubby lot of them, all the folk of Nurn--these erstwhile slaves of Mordor, patient with each other's long, slow climb out of the pit. He looked to the old man and asked, "By the way--do you happen to know any riddles?"
 

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